WEIRD WATERS: The Lake and Sea Monsters of Scandinavia and the Baltic States
by Lars Thomas with Jacob Rask
CFZ Press, 2011
The title of this slender volume might lead one to fear it was an amateur piece of work in the unfortunate sense of the word. That, however, is decidedly not true. The book is an engaging, enjoyable tour of Scandinavian waters with a lot of firsthand accounts and some bits of information I've not seen anywhere else.
Thomas is a marine biologist by training, and it shows in his proper handling of zoological terms, species identification, etc. The only point I didn't understand was when he remarks on a pendant made the hooks from a giant squid's suckers (left embedded in a boat). Surely Thomas knows the true giant squid has no hooks on its suckers, and he doesn't suggest another species. (The logical suspect, the colossal squid, is strictly a Southern hemisphere animal.) Thomas also wanders off the purely zoological into some specters and other "things" seen in seas and lakes, but he is the author, and of course that's up to him. (He doesn't argue for the reality of anything supernatural, though, he just presents the stories.)
Being of Danish ancestry, I was especially intrigued by the episode where a "sea monk" (large squid) was caught and sent alive to king Christian III, a distant relation of mine, who put it in the castle moat and attempted to talk to it. (Okay, so my ancestors were kings, not rocket scientists. The fact that Danish legend includes a "mercow" doesn't say much for the nation, either.) Thomas tries hard, in creature reports, to suggest known species that might have been misidentified, so kudos for that.
The most intriguing bit here is a series of sightings on the coast and in a lake near the ocean in Iceland of what seems to be very large long-necked seal. I was already disposed to think such a creature was at least possible, and Thomas moved the needle further away from "silly" toward "maybe."
Thomas throws in some science about known species (he has, for example, seen a bottlenose dolphin with two dorsal fins, and collected the first report I've read of pilot whales with the same anomaly.) He adds a good bibliography, though I would have liked more direct source notes. Some of his eyewitness reports are from people who remained anonymous, always a bit of a disappointment, but would you tell everyone you'd seen a mercow?
Bottom line: If you are interested in legends of seas and lakes, Scandinavian history, or the possibility of large unknown species still to be found, you are going to like this book a lot.