Skip to main content

Photos of a Terrifying 'Sea Monster' Ship Figurehead

Earlier this month, scientists unearthed the monstrous figurehead from a more than 500-year old ship that sank in the Baltic Sea. The figurehead, which shows a fantastical creature similar to a crocodile or a dog, was fixed atop the Gribshunden, a vessel that caught fire and sank in 1495 [Read the full story on the Gribshunden figurehead]

Rough patch

The Gribshunden was the flagship in the Danish King Hans' fleet. In 1495, the king was making his way to Kalmar in what is now Sweden, when he briefly left the ship to conduct business at the port at Ronneby. While he was away, the ship burst into flames and sank, with many killed. Here, an image of a ship that dates to roughly the same time period, which was taken from a church in the region. (Photo credit: Foto Ingemar Lundgren, Ocean Discovery)

Diving discovery

In the 1970s, divers discovered the wreck, but because there are about 1,000 wrecks dotting the coast in this region, it wasn't difficult to identify the ship. Here, a view of the ship's figurehead. on a platform, being lifted out of the water. (Photo credit: Foto Ingemar Lundgren, Ocean Discovery)

The Grip dog

It wasn't until 2013, when scientists analyzed the tree rings from the ship's timbers that researchers could identify the ship. They found that the trees that made the ship were felled between 1482 and 1483. When they looked in the historical record, they found a ship known as the Gribshunden, or "Grip Dog," sank in 1495 and matched the ships description. Here, another view of the figurehead as it is hoisted out of the ocean depths. (Photo credit: Foto Ingemar Lundgren, Ocean Discovery)

Mystery creature

The figurehead, shows a fantasy creature, with both leonine and crocodilian in appearance. It may in fact be a Grip Dog — a mashup of the mythical Greek griffon and a dog — or it may be a sea monster clutching a human head in its mouth. (Photo credit: Johan Ronnby)

Ready for display

The monstrous figurehead weighs about 660 pounds (300 kg) and from the tip of its nose to its end, it is 11.1 feet (3.4 m) long. Now that it is out of the ocean, the team is soaking it in water while looking for the best way to preserve it. They eventually hope to display it at the Blekinge Museum in Karlskrona, Sweden. (Photo credit: Blekinge Museum)

Massive ship

The rest of the ship still lies beneath the waves, and would have been up to 100 feet (30 m) long and would have held 150 people. The warship may be the only example of its kind from the time period, likely because the Baltic's less salty water and lack of shipworms mean it has not been destroyed. Here, another image from around 1500, which may be what the boat would have looked like in its heyday. (Photo credit: Blekinge Museum)

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitterand Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.