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1494, September 1~14: Columbus sees a Sea Monster

Columbus by Theodor de Bry
Christopher Columbus, as drawn by Theodore de Bry in 1590 [Larger version here]

One of the most respected biographies of the 13th Century explorer Christopher Columbus [1451-1506] was written by his son, Ferdinand, after his father's death. Ferdinand had personally sailed with his father on his fourth voyage to North America, in 1502-1504. Ferdinand's manuscript was not published until after his death. It's largely from Ferdinand's biography of his father that the known history of Columbus and his voyages are now known, and it is the cornerstone of history about the explorer... which is why it's interesting that the following excerpt from it gets no attention.

        From a modern English translation of Ferdinand's biography, we read that sometime between September 1~14 in 1494, this curious event occurred to Columbus and his men:

"Holding on their course, the ship's people sighted a large fish, big as a whale, with a carapace like a turtle's, a head the size of a barrel protruding from the water, a long tail like that of a tunny fish, and two large wings. From this and from certain other signs the Admiral knew they were in for foul weather and sought a port where they might take refuge."

As far as I know, no such creature exists. So what did Columbus see?

Did It Happen...?

        This is one of those moments where the gray zone of what is considered history and what is not considered history is fully exposed.

        History is often just stories that have been agreed upon and accepted, with no hard evidence past this agreement to support it... and in the case of most of Christopher Columbus' voyages, this is the case. Ferdinand's account of his father's life is taken as authoritative on many details that no other document can confirm; yet the story above is quietly ignored, even though it has the same amount of evidence to support it as anything else in Ferdinand's biography.

        In short, the story above is ignored because current learned thought does not admit to the possibility of an unknown creature in the ocean... but many other details in Ferdinand's biography are accepted because they do agree with modern learned thought about what could be true. All of which begs the question: what if Columbus actually saw the creature described?

        And that, at it's heart, is the difference between history and not history, as well as what's paranormal and normal... what current learned thought allows, no matter what was actually reported.