What’s lurking in the depths of the ocean? Or your local loch? We’re diving deep into the world of water-dwelling mythical creatures in part three of our series on myths. We’ll talk with monster expert Emily Zarka and learn about the very real creature that may have inspired the tale of the Kraken. We’ll also hear from a frustrated manatee and dugong, and get caught up on all the latest deep sea trends. Marc and Sanden are back with a Hoax Hunters about the Loch Ness Monster. Plus, a Moment of Um about our physical reaction to fear.

If you want to learn more about the history, facts and lore behind Loch Ness, check out this fascinating episode of Smash Boom Best: LOCH NESS VS BERMUDA TRIANGLE!

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MOLLY BLOOM: A quick note before we start the show in this series we're taking a look at myths from modern day legends to stories that are thousands of years old. Some of them might seem a bit scary but we're talking about them because we want to understand the important role they play in our lives, and dig into the history and facts behind them. And of course, there's all the usual Brains On fun too. OK, on with the show.

MELLOW: You're listening to Brains On, where we're serious about being curious.

CHILD: Brains On is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

MELLOW: 1,000 years ago, the freezing cold waters between Norway and Iceland were a dangerous place. Ships had to watch out for ice, for other ships, and for something gurgling in those dark mysterious waters. They were on the lookout for a sea creature that lived deep below the surface, the kraken. And when it rose up--

SAILOR 1: Oy, do you see that? There's a leg coming out of the water.

SAILOR 2: And another leg. Another leg over here.

SAILOR 3: It's got us.

MELLOW: The kraken could wrap its tentacles around the ship and carry it back under the waves or a snack. The kraken was huge. Some say it was as big as an island and it was tricky.

SAILOR 1: Hold on, we've escaped its legs.

SAILOR 2: I think we're free. But wait, what's happening now?

SAILOR 3: Is that a--

ALL: Whirlpool!

MELLOW: If the kraken couldn't catch a ship with its legs, then it would swim in fast circles, round and round and round until it created a whirlpool that would pull the ship under.

ALL: Ahhh!

MELLOW: If a ship never came home, people told stories like this one to explain what had happened. Sometimes, something long and squishy and strange would wash up on the beach, a creature longer than a car with even longer legs. Was this the beast that sailors were so afraid of or was there something even bigger out there, something as big as an island?


MOLLY BLOOM: This is Brains On from American Public Media. I'm Molly Bloom. And I'm here today with a Mellow from Seattle. Hi, Mellow.

MELLOW: Hi, Molly.

MOLLY BLOOM: This episode is part three of our series about modern myths and legends.

MELLOW: Today we're talking about mythical creatures that live in water.

MOLLY BLOOM: --a subject our listeners are very curious about.

CHILD: Do mermaids exist?

CHILD: With this being the record year of Loch Ness Monster sightings, I would love to hear about its history and possibly learn if the Loch Ness Monster is actually real.

CHILD: Who came up with the legend of mermaids, and did they think that they were ugly or pretty, like we do today?

CHILD: All the times I went into the ocean, there are so many bright, lively things. And I just wonder, could anyone live down here?

MOLLY BLOOM: Thanks to Callie from Toronto, Abby from Newport Beach, and Hazel from Tulsa for sending us those questions.

MELLOW: From the ocean to lakes to rivers and streams--

MOLLY BLOOM: Wherever you find water, you'll find stories of mythical creatures. So Mellow, what are your favorite myths about water animals?

MELLOW: Mermaids.

MOLLY BLOOM: And why are mermaids your favorite?

MELLOW: Because they usually like look so pretty. And when you see their tail, and it's like a way of combining a fish and a human.

MOLLY BLOOM: Are there other mythological sea creatures that you've heard about that you think are interesting too?

MELLOW: The Loch Ness Monster.

MOLLY BLOOM: Why do you like the Loch Ness Monster?

MELLOW: Well, so when you see it, there's like real proof and the evidence of it because there's like a picture that I saw. And it reminds me of like a dinosaur.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, we are actually going to learn some more about that famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster later in the show. So why do you think these stories about mythological creatures are so popular?

MELLOW: Maybe because it's like most of them are old-ish. And then they're usually a way to explain like something bad, sometimes good, of what happens.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, so when people were confronted with things they didn't understand, these stories made them feel better.


MOLLY BLOOM: Well, we wanted to know why bodies of water inspire so many myths. So we talked with monster expert Dr. Emily Zarka.

MELLOW: She says that lots of myths begin with fear.

EMILY ZARKA: Oh, I'm actually terrified of the ocean in the most respectful way possible because we just don't understand it. And I think that all sea monsters come ultimately from real fears that travelers on the sea have, and still have today, of things like whirlpools, of sharks, of giant squid, of these predators that are lurking in the oceans, or even just drowning.

MOLLY BLOOM: Myths also get created when people feel confused.

MELLOW: It can be hard to see things through water, which makes it tricky to identify animals.

MOLLY BLOOM: So people sometimes tell stories to explain what they saw.

MELLOW: Emily says myths can also be used to teach important lessons, like the ikuchi from Japan.

EMILY ZARKA: It's described as a strange fish that's so long it could take three hours to pass by a ship. So this is a creature that has no eyes and no mouth. But it was believed to basically just be a giant eel that secreted oil from its body.

MOLLY BLOOM: If the ikuchi released enough oil, it would flood the ship and it would sink. Sailors had to move fast to keep that from happening.

EMILY ZARKA: As long as you're bailing out the oil, your ship and the sailors are going to survive. But what I find fascinating about this Japanese monster is that it can't be defeated. It just happens. And then the response is about hard work.

These stories that we create are not just meant to terrify us. But maybe it's something as simple as trying to keep travelers safe. I think it's our way of explaining the world and the things we don't understand. And sometimes those are things we're afraid of. And sometimes those are things that are beautiful. But telling myths and creating monsters is part of the human condition.

MELLOW: Dr. Emily Zarka hosts a PBS show called Monstrum.

MOLLY BLOOM: You can find Monstrum online. It's all about monsters. And you should totally check it out.


MOLLY BLOOM: I bet the animals get so tired of people mistaking them for mythical creatures. Like just the other day, I was at a Seabucks cafe and I overheard this conversation between a manatee and a dugong.

MAN: I've got two seagrass snacks to go.

MANATEE: Yoo hoo, they're for us.

MAN: Ahh, mermaids.

DUGONG: No, I'm a dugong.

MANATEE: And I'm a manatee.

MAN: Oh, weird. The way you poked your head out of the water--

MANATEE: Made me look like a mermaid?

MAN: Well, yeah. And the way your tail flipped out of the water--

DUGONG: Made me look like a mermaid? Well, too bad, buddy. We're sea cows.

MANATEE: And proud.

MAN: Oh, sorry, Ms. Dugong and Ms. Manatee.

MANATEE: Oh, we're used to it. Humans have been mistaking us for mermaids since the dawn of time.

DUGONG: Since the fourth century BCE, to be exact. That's when the Babylonians first cooked up the idea of a god who was half man, half fish. It's getting real old.

MANATEE: May we please have our seagrass snacks now?

MAN: Yes, yes, here you go.

MANATEE: Oh, Thank you. Come on, Darla. Let's take our snacks and go for a swim.

DUGONG: I told you we shouldn't go to a Seabucks. Their logo is a mermaid, for shrimp's sake.

MANATEE: I know. But I had to try these seagrass snacks. Who cares?

DUGONG: I just wish humans would swoon over me for who I really am. I'm tired of being a disappointment.

MANATEE: Oh, Darla, you're not a disappointment. You're a dugong. You're just like us fabulous manatees, only you live longer, have a tail like a whale, and can't see so well, which, really, who cares? Plus mermaids are pretty. So doesn't that just mean humans think we're pretty too?

DUGONG: No, Muriel. Watch out, there's another boat.


DUGONG: Let's get some air.


MAN 1: Yo, bro, look, it's a dugong and a manatee.

DUGONG: Could it be?

MAN 2: No, no, man, those are mermaids.

MANATEE: Well, here we go again.

CARTOON VOICE: (SINGING) Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba Brains On.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, Mellow, here's a watery mystery for you to ponder it's time for the--

CHILD: (WHISPERING) mystery sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: Here it is.


OK, what do you think that sound is?

MELLOW: That sounds like a seal.


MELLOW: In the water.

MOLLY BLOOM: Mm-hmm, there's definitely some watery noises happening there. And you think you heard a seal.

MELLOW: Yeah there's like high pitched like screeches, but not really screeches.

MOLLY BLOOM: Well it is a very, very good guess. We're going to hear the mystery sound again and reveal the answer a little bit later in the episode. So keep thinking on it.



SANDEN TOTTEN: And we're back with another edition of

BOTH: (SINGING) Hoax Hunters, we like myths but we hate getting tricked, yeah. We like myths but we hate getting tricked, all right. We like myths but we hate getting tricked. We hate getting tricked. No we don't like it.

MARC SANCHEZ: A hoax is when somebody tricks you into believing something that isn't true.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Today's hoax is all about your favorite giant Scottish sea creature, that's right, it's the Loch Ness Monster.

MARC SANCHEZ: Otherwise known as Nessie.

SANDEN TOTTEN: There have been stories about the Loch Ness Monster for centuries. But things really got going in 1933, when a couple claimed they saw a creature splashing around in the Loch, which, by the way, is a lake if you're in Scotland.

MARC SANCHEZ: What the haggis?

SANDEN TOTTEN: The couple's creature sighting got so much buzz that a London newspaper sent the famous hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell to catch the monster. Wetherell didn't have any luck finding Nessie. But he did find some giant tracks in the sand.

MARC SANCHEZ: The footprints were so big, the creature would have to have been the size of a double decker bus.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Whoa. But then a zoologist looked at the footprints and said they were actually hippo tracks.

MARC SANCHEZ: But it wasn't a wild Scottish hippopotamus.

SANDEN TOTTEN: No. [BUZZER] It was Wetherell. He used a dried hippos foot to stamp tracks in the sand.

You got hoaxed.

Wetherell's hoax was exposed. And the dude was totally humiliated.

MARC SANCHEZ: But the Nessie mania didn't stop there. Just a few months later, a respected surgeon named Robert Wilson was driving along the Loch when he saw a slender-necked creature sticking its head out of the water.

SANDEN TOTTEN: Wilson photographed the creature and the image went viral.

MARC SANCHEZ: Some people thought the photo proved that Nessie really did exist. Others were suspicious.

SANDEN TOTTEN: 60 years later, it was revealed the photo was also a hoax orchestrated by none other than Wetherell himself.

You got double hoaxed.

Here's how he did it.

MARC SANCHEZ: After the whole hippo fiasco, Wetherell crafted a new plan to fool the masses.

SANDEN TOTTEN: He teamed up with his stepson to build a fake Nessie by attaching a plastic head to a toy submarine.

MARC SANCHEZ: The pair photographed the toy in the water and gave the photos to Wilson to share with the press. They figured more people would believe someone with a good reputation, like a doctor.

SANDEN TOTTEN: The photo remains one of the most iconic images of Nessie to date. Too bad it's a fake.

MARC SANCHEZ: That's all for today's episode of (SINGING) Hoax Hunters.

MOLLY BLOOM: If you want to hear more about the Loch Ness Monster, check out our other podcast Smash Boom Best, where we debated Bermuda Triangle versus Loch Ness.

MARC SANCHEZ: Oh yeah, team Loch Ness for life.

MELLOW: You can find Smash Boom Best wherever you listen to Brains On. Do you have a big question about the way the world works?

MOLLY BLOOM: We love getting your questions and your artwork too. Or you can always just write to us to say hello. Head to brainson.org/contact.

MELLOW: That's how we got this awesome question.

CHILD: My name is [? Shifra. ?] I am 10 years old and I live in Sydney, Australia. My question is, why do people jump when they're scared?

MOLLY BLOOM: Stay tuned at the end of the episode to hear the answer to that question and to hear the newest members of the Brain's honor roll. We'll be right back.

You are listening to Brains On. I'm Molly.

MELLOW: And I'm Mellow.

MOLLY BLOOM: We asked our listeners which mythical creature they'd choose to hang out with. And here's what they had to say.

CHILD: A fantasy feature I would like to meet is a niffler. A niffler is a creature that really, really likes shiny objects. And I would like to meet one because they are really cute, especially the baby ones.

CHILD: I'd like to go camping with a dragon because I could roast marshmallows with it.

CHILD: I would like to hang out with a mermaid because I would like to swim with it and look for other sea animals.

CHILD: I would hang out with the unicorn. And what I really do with them is just have a Tea Party and play.

CHILD: I like to hang a dragon because they're cool. They're my favorite animal. They have so many powers and there's a reality to them because there's such thing as the komodo dragon.

CHILD: I'd like to meet a phoenix because I would want to look at the sun up close with him or her. And I would like to see what color phoenix has. It would just be so cool.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow, that sounds like a very good time. Thanks to [? Kaylynn ?] from Minnesota, Ruby from Austin, Gus from Victoria, BC, Assaf from Granville, Freya from Toronto, and Lorelei from Boston for sending us those ideas. Now let's get back to our mystery sound. Are you ready to hear it again, Mellow?



MOLLY BLOOM: All right, do you have any new thoughts after hearing it again?

MELLOW: Now I'm thinking that it could be a puffin.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, another animal that lives near the water. I like it. Here is the answer.

RACHEL HAYWOOD FERREIRA: The sound you just heard was a manatee Hi my name is Rachel Haywood Ferreira, and I study Latin American literature. Manatees are an important part of sea myths because sailors over many hundreds of years have seen these new creatures that they didn't recognize. And they interpreted them to be something mythical or something that they might have heard about, such as mermaids.

MOLLY BLOOM: One sailor who seems to have mixed up manatees and mermaids is Christopher Columbus. We know that because when he sailed to America he kept a diary. The original writing got lost. But someone else, Bartolome de la Casas, made records of the diary before it was lost. Those records are in Spanish.


So what he's saying is that he saw three mermaids doesn't say what distance he saw them at. But he does say they rose up out of the sea. And they weren't quite what he was expecting to see. He was expecting to see beautiful half women, half fish. And he sounds a little disappointed and said they're not as beautiful as they are in pictures because they look sort of like men, and not these lovely women he was expecting. Though really if you see a picture of a manatee, they don't really look like men either, at least not up close.


MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah because they kind of have--

MELLOW: Because of the tail at the end.

MOLLY BLOOM: And their top is like a little more human-looking.


MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah. So I guess when you're out at sea for a long time, you can start seeing things.

MELLOW: Manatees aren't the only sea creatures that have inspired myths.

MOLLY BLOOM: The ocean is full of so many unusual animals, some of them seem straight out of a fairy tale.

MELLOW: Like the giant squid.

MOLLY BLOOM: Brains On listener [? Callum ?] wrote us wanting to know more about these amazing and totally real creatures.

MELLOW: So we introduced him to Dr. Edie Widder, the perfect person to answer his many squid-related questions.

MOLLY BLOOM: She's spent much of her career as a deep sea explorer, and is now the CEO and senior scientist at the Ocean Research Conservation Association, or ORCA for short.

CALLUM: Hello.

EDIE WIDDER: Hello, Calum.

CALLUM: Why are giant squids so hard to see?

EDIE WIDDER: Because they're shy. People used to think they were monsters just because of their size. But the fact is, we've been scaring them away. We go down there to explore with these exploration platforms like submersibles and remote operated vehicles. And they have noisy thrusters and big, bright lights. And of course they were going to run away.

We think there may be millions of them out there based on the number of giant squid beaks that have been found in the stomach of sperm whales. So that's even more amazing that there could be that many, and we haven't seen them just because of the silly way we've been exploring the deep ocean.

So I was so upset by the fact that we were scaring these animals away that I developed this camera system that I could put in the ocean and leave it down there. And it didn't have noisy thrusters and it didn't use bright white lights. It used red light that these squid can't see. And then I created this optical lure that imitates the display of a deep sea jellyfish, a bioluminescent display that I thought would be attractive to the giant squid.

And sure enough, it was. And so I actually managed to record with that camera the first video ever seen of a giant squid in its natural habitat, which was pretty cool.

CALLUM: How long are they?

EDIE WIDDER: The longest one ever measured they said was 43 feet. So that would be as tall as a four story building. And they had those big, long, stretchy tentacles so they can whip them out and grab on to things. Have you ever seen the mouth of a giant squid?


EDIE WIDDER: It's in the center of all those arms. And it looks like a parrot's beak. Squid like to eat squid, a lot. And some of them are cannibals. The weird thing about the giant squid is it takes tiny little bites. And we saw this when we got the first video of a giant squid off Japan in 2012.

And we were using a bait squid called a diamondback. It was a dead squid that we attached to the submersible. And then a giant squid came in and it was eating it for almost 25 minutes. And the weird thing about giant squid is they have to take tiny bites because their gullet goes right through the center of their brain. They have a donut-shaped brain. And if they take too big a bite they could actually damage their brain.

So this is probably one of the most alien creatures you can ever imagine because it's got these eight writhing arms and two incredibly long stretchy slashing tentacles. It's got a beak that can rip flesh. It's got the largest eyes known in the animal kingdom, the size of a dinner plate. It's got a funnel that allows it to have jet propulsion equally fast forward and backwards. It's got three hearts, and it pumps blue blood. I mean, you couldn't make up a more alien-sounding creature.

MOLLY BLOOM: So it makes sense that they inspired these fantastic stories.

EDIE WIDDER: Well, there were a lot of mysterious things in the ocean that scared the early sailors. And when a giant squid is dying, they do tend to come to the surface. And the ancient sailors' tales describe these creatures floating at the surface that were so large they could be mistaken for an island.

And if a boat went near them to try to see what it was, they would instinctively grab onto whatever came near them. And they could actually pull a boat under water. But it was not malicious intent. It was just instinct. But they would-- sailors would come back with these horrific stories of just enormous monsters. And the stories, of course, grew in the telling. It was called the kraken.

CALLUM: Thank you for coming, and bye bye.

EDIE WIDDER: Bye, Callum. You asked very good questions. I enjoyed talking with you.

CARTOON VOICE: (SINGING) Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba Brains On.

MELLOW: There are so many incredible animals in the world. It's hard to believe some of them exist.

MOLLY BLOOM: Totally. It's no wonder nature inspires so many myths.

MELLOW: Especially the ocean. So much of it is unexplored. And scientists discover new sea creatures all the time.

MOLLY BLOOM: Creatures just as fantastical as a kraken or the Loch Ness Monster. I just wish there was an easy way to keep up. It seems like everyone always knows about the newest deep sea trends before me.

MELLOW: Sounds like you've got a bad case of deep sea FOMO.

MOLLY BLOOM: Deep sea what?

CARTOON VOICE: Deep sea FOMO. That's the fear of missing out on hot goss all about the latest deep sea discoveries.

MELLOW: Yeah, what that disembodied voice guy said.

MOLLY BLOOM: I mean, I guess I might have a little bit of that.

CARTOON VOICE: You know what they say, undiagnosed deep sea FOMO is the hardest kind to treat.

MELLOW: Yeah, it's true. I read about that study.

CARTOON VOICE: Well, have I got just a thing for you. For centuries, people have speculated about creatures in the sea. They've even gone so far as to conjure up myths about these wonders of the ocean. It's too bad those people didn't have a way to explore the world themselves. Well, now there is.

Introducing Deep Sea Delights, the world's only sea creature subscription service. Every month, you'll get the coordinates to amazing underwater animals that actually exist in nature.

WOMAN: Whoa, that dumbo octopus looks fantastic. Look at those little fins it uses to steer. They look like elephant ears, aww.

CARTOON VOICE: These are no myths. Whether it's a cephalopod like the dumbo octopus or colony of sea pens that look like feathery quills sticking out of the ocean floor, Deep Sea Delights shows you the coolest real life creatures under the waves.

Choosing our one step accept box not only signed you up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but it connects us to your bank account. What could be more legal-- I mean easy? We book your flight, hire the submarine, and take you to the farthest depths of the sea.

WOMAN: I'm into the really scary fish. What do you got for me?

CARTOON VOICE: How about a face-to-face with a 7-foot frilled shark? This creature is thought to have inspired myths and legends as it wound its way through the dark middle ocean. Plus, the frilled shark has 300 razor sharp teeth to catch and kill its prey.

WOMAN: Sign me up.

CARTOON VOICE: Frilled shark, coming up.


CARTOON VOICE: Looking for something just as fantastic but a little more tame?

MAN: Yeah.

CARTOON VOICE: Well, you're in luck. Next month's Deep Sea Delight is the Platybrachium antarcticum.

MAN: The platy-who what now?

CARTOON VOICE: Platybrachium antarcticum, but you can call it the sea angel like everyone else does.

MAN: Oh.

CARTOON VOICE: Its transparent, white, cone-shaped body waves like a ghost through the depths of the Antarctic Ocean. And that's just the tip of the deep sea delights iceberg. Upcoming months, traverse the globe and include the yeti crab, the zombie starfish, and of course, the giant squid.

Head over to deep sea delights what what to sign up. And hurry, seats are going fast for the next set of coordinates that goes out one week from today. That's Deep Sea Delights dot what what for your diving adventure. That's Deep Sea Delights dot what what.

MELLOW: From giant squid to manatees, all kinds of aquatic animals inspire myths.

MOLLY BLOOM: These stories can help us cope with fear or confusion, or even teach us an important lesson about hard work like the Japanese ikuchi.

MELLOW: We've closed the case on some sea creatures, like mermaids. But there are some pretty surprising animals in the depths of the ocean.

MOLLY BLOOM: It's no wonder that the myth of the Kraken was inspired by the totally mind blowing, real life giant squid.

MELLOW: But remember, it's good to be skeptical when someone makes a big discovery. Photos are easy to fake.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's it for this episode of Brains On.

MELLOW: Brains On is made by Menaka Wilhelm, Sanden Totten, Marc Sanchez, and Molly Bloom.

MOLLY BLOOM: [? Elyssa ?] Dudley and Ruby Guthrie helped make this series possible. We had production support from Cristina Lopez and Rosie Dupont, engineering help from Veronica Rodriguez, Eric Romani, and Frank Roberto. Special Thanks to Monica Bushman, Matt [? Tinocco, ?] Micah [? Kilbonne, ?] Chris Greenspan, Andy [? Orozco, ?] Louis [? Renkavic, ?] Jeff [? Enilica, ?] Whitney Jones, and Tanya [? Kanwinsky. ?]

MELLOW: Before we go it's time for our Moment of Um.

CHILD: Why do people jump when they're scared?

SARAH BENISH: The simple answer is that it's a reflex reaction that our brain has learned. My name is Sarah Benish. I'm a neurologist, which is a doctor that takes care of brain conditions and spinal cord conditions. And I work at the University of Minnesota.

There's a response that we call the fight or flight response. So this goes back to the very kind of origins of humans. And we have to be able to survive all threats. When you're watching something scary or something scary is around, your brain reacts to that by getting this surge of energy that makes your muscles want to move and run away to safety, or move and fight for your safety.

And so when you're scared, this surge of energy creates that jump. And then your brain quickly shuts it down, recognizing, oh, there isn't actually a reason for me to run out of the movie theater because I was scared or start fighting the person next to me with the popcorn because I was scared, because it was just a scary moment rather than a true threat.

MOLLY BLOOM: I am a jumping with joy to read these names. It's the Brain's Honor Roll. These are the remarkable listeners who keep this show going with their amazing questions, ideas, mystery sounds, drawings, and high fives. [LISTING HONOR ROLL]

We'll be back soon with more answers to your questions.

MELLOW: Thanks for listening.

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