Centuries-old mysteries of mermaid and kraken sightings could be explained by the less mythical species of whales, according to scientists.
A study published in academic journal Marine Mammal Science on Tuesday, argues that a newly-observed behaviour by whales called “trap-feeding” likely fooled the imagination of sailors.
“Trap feeding”, which was first observed in 2011, involves whales lurking silently at the surface of the ocean with their mouths wide open, waiting for shoals of fish to swim into the water between their jaws.
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Fish that believe they are still in safe waters then face certain death as the whales snap their jaws shut and eat them.
The authors of the study argued that for 2,000 years, sailors traversing oceans mistook this activity as proof of the existence of krakens and mermaids.
This, combined with exaggerated or embellished details, led to rise in myths surrounding these creatures.
John McCarthy, a maritime archaeologist at Flinders University in Australia, and lead author of the study, told Newsweek: "I was casually reading about Icelandic mythology and came across a reference to a sea monster that trapped fish in its mouth by staying still at the surface of the water and enticing them to enter, before snapping its mouth shut to trap them”
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John added that it looked an awful lot like a video he'd seen of whales feeding.
“After discussing the idea with experts in mediaeval literature, they turned up more and more data that seemed to support the theory that the two concepts were linked”, he added.
John said that after discussing the theory with other experts, they found several historical accounts of “kraken attacks” and “mermaid” sightings in cultures across time and the world that may have instead been sightings of “trap feeding”.
"There is a lot left to learn about whale behaviour. It is an exciting time in marine biology, with new technologies such as drones being used to sample whale breath as they surface”, he added.
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