The single most known and iconic representation of the giant sea monster, with its massive tentacles erupting out of the deep waters and around of a ship, about to sink it.

Others Giant octopus
Gigantic octopus
Binomen Microcosmus marinus
Microcosmus sp.
Psychroteuthis pelagii [2]
Singulare monstrum
Octopus giganteus
Otoctopus giganteus
Body type Cephalopod
Average length Several meters
Over 10 ships[1]
Sentience Sentient
Sapience Non-sapient
Aggressivity High to Extreme
Place of origin 12/14th-century Norway
Habitat Norwegian sea
Diet Carnivore
Locomotion Siphonic jet propulsion (supposed)
Subspecies Kraken octopus
Colossal octopus
Related species Hafgufa
Status Data Deficient
Behind the Scenes
Universe Real

Kraken is the most well-known name of a legendary deep sea monster, which uses its tentacles to sink ships.

This monster is erroneously linked to Greek mythology (likely by great influence of the 1981 film Clash of the Titans), as the monster defeated by Perseus was called Cetus, which is depicted by the constellation of same name (usually as a whale, whose systematic name - cetacean - also derives from Cetus). The word itself, κῆτος (kētos), originally referred to any large marine animal or sea monster.


The English word "kraken" is taken from Norwegian. In Norwegian and Swedish, "kraken" is the definite form of "krake", a word designating an unhealthy animal or something twisted (cognate with the English "crook" and "crank"). In modern German, "krake" (plural and declined singular: "kraken") means octopus, but can also refer to the legendary monster.[3]

Norse origins

In the late 14th century version of the Old Icelandic saga Örvar-Oddr is an inserted episode of a journey bound for Helluland (Baffin Island) which takes the protagonists through the Greenland Sea, and there they spot two massive sea-monsters called Hafgufa ("sea mist") and Lyngbakr ("heather-back"). The Hafgufa is believed to be a reference to the kraken:[3]

"Now I will tell you that there are two sea-monsters. One is called the hafgufa (sea-mist), another lyngbakr (heather-back). It (the lyngbakr) is the largest whale in the world, but the hafgufa is the hugest monster in the sea. It is the nature of this creature to swallow men and ships, and even whales and everything else within reach. It stays submerged for days, then rears its head and nostrils above surface and stays that way at least until the change of tide. Now, that sound we just sailed through was the space between its jaws, and its nostrils and lower jaw were those rocks that appeared in the sea, while the lyngbakr was the island we saw sinking down. However, Ogmund Tussock has sent these creatures to you by means of his magic to cause the death of you (Odd) and all your men. He thought more men would have gone the same way as those that had already drowned (i.e. to the lyngbakr which wasn't an island, and sank), and he expected that the hafgufa would have swallowed us all. Today I sailed through its mouth because I knew that it had recently surfaced."[3]

The Kraken is also believed to rise to the surface during Ragnarok.[2]

Early scientific studies on the kraken

After returning from Greenland, the anonymous author of the Old Norwegian scientific work Konungs skuggsjá (circa 1250) described in detail the physical characteristics and feeding behavior of these beasts. The narrator proposed there must only be two in existence, stemming from the observation that the beasts have always been sighted in the same parts of the Greenland Sea, and that each seemed incapable of reproduction, as there was no increase in their numbers.[3]

"There is a fish that is still unmentioned, which it is scarcely advisable to speak about on account of its size, because it will seem to most people incredible. There are only a very few who can speak upon it clearly, because it is seldom near land nor appears where it may be seen by fishermen, and I suppose there are not many of this sort of fish in the sea. Most often in our tongue we call it hafgufa. Nor can I conclusively speak about its length in ells, because the times he has shown before men, he has appeared more like land than like a fish. Neither have I heard that one had been caught or found dead; and it seems to me as though there must be no more than two in the oceans, and I deem that each is unable to reproduce itself, for I believe that they are always the same ones. Then too, neither would it do for other fish if the hafgufa were of such a number as other whales, on account of their vastness, and how much subsistence that they need. It is said to be the nature of these fish that when one shall desire to eat, then it stretches up its neck with a great belching, and following this belching comes forth much food, so that all kinds of fish that are near to hand will come to present location, then will gather together, both small and large, believing they shall obtain there food and good eating; but this great fish lets its mouth stand open the while, and the gap is no less wide than that of a great sound or fjord, And nor may the fish avoid running together there in their great numbers. But as soon as its stomach and mouth is full, then it locks together its jaws and has the fish all caught and enclosed, that before greedily came there looking for food."[3]

Carolus Linnaeus classified the kraken as a cephalopod, designating the scientific name microcosmus marinus in the first edition of his Systema Naturae (1735), a taxonomic classification of living organisms. The creature was excluded from later editions. Linnaeus's later work, Fauna Suecica (1746) calls the creature singulare monstrum, "a unique monster", and says of it Habitare fertur in mari Norwegico, ipse non dum animal vidi, "It is said to inhabit the seas of Norway, but I have not seen this animal".[3]

Claims and assumptions unrelated to study

Kraken were also extensively described by Erik Pontoppidan, diocese of Bergen, in his Det Forste Forsorg paa Norges Naturlige Historie ("Natural History of Norway", Copenhagen, 1752–3). Pontoppidan made several claims regarding kraken, including the notion that the creature was sometimes mistaken for an island and that the real danger to sailors was not the creature itself but rather the whirlpool left in its wake. However, Pontoppidan also described the destructive potential of the giant beast: "it is said that if [the creature's arms] were to lay hold of the largest man-of-war, they would pull it down to the bottom". According to Pontoppidan, Norwegian fishermen often took the risk of trying to fish over kraken, since the catch was so plentiful (hence the saying "you must have fished on kraken"). Pontoppidan also proposed that a specimen of the monster, "perhaps a young and careless one", was washed ashore and died at Alstahaug in 1680. By 1755, Pontoppidan's description of the kraken had been translated into English.[3]

18th Century Swedish author Jacob Wallenberg described the kraken in the 1781 work Min son på galejan ("My son on the galley"):[3]

"... Kraken, also called the Crab-fish, which is not that huge, for heads and tails counted, he is no larger than our Öland is wide [i.e., less than 16 km] ... He stays at the sea floor, constantly surrounded by innumerable small fishes, who serve as his food and are fed by him in return: for his meal, (if I remember correctly what E. Pontoppidan writes,) lasts no longer than three months, and another three are then needed to digest it. His excrements nurture in the following an army of lesser fish, and for this reason, fishermen plumb after his resting place ... Gradually, Kraken ascends to the surface, and when he is at ten to twelve fathoms, the boats had better move out of his vicinity, as he will shortly thereafter burst up, like a floating island, spurting water from his dreadful nostrils and making ring waves around him, which can reach many miles. Could one doubt that this is the Leviathan of Job?"[3]

In 1802, the French malacologist Pierre Dénys de Montfort recognized the existence of two kinds of giant octopus in Histoire Naturelle Générale et Particulière des Mollusques, an encyclopedic description of mollusks. Montfort claimed that the first type, the kraken octopus, had been described by Norwegian sailors and American whalers, as well as ancient writers such as Pliny the Elder. The much larger second type, the colossal octopus, was reported to have attacked a sailing vessel from Saint-Malo, off the coast of Angola.[3]

Montfort later dared more sensational claims. He proposed that ten British warships, including the captured French ship of the line Ville de Paris, which had mysteriously disappeared one night in 1782, must have been attacked and sunk by giant octopuses. The British, however, knew - courtesy of a survivor from the Ville de Paris - that the ships had been lost in a hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland in September 1782, resulting in a disgraceful revelation for Montfort.[3]

Possible explanations

Trinity Bay squid

The giant squid specimen that was beached alive in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, on September 24, 1877.

Since the late 18th century, kraken have been depicted in a number of ways, primarily as large octopus-like creatures, and it has often been alleged that Pontoppidan's kraken might have been based on sailors' observations of the giant squid (which, according to specimens recovered, inhabits many regions, especially on Northern Europe, Greenland, North American eastern coasts and a portion of Northern Caribbean). In the earliest descriptions, however, the creatures were more crab-like than octopus-like, and generally possessed traits that are associated with large whales rather than with giant squid. Some traits of kraken resemble undersea volcanic activity occurring in the Iceland region, including bubbles of water; sudden, dangerous currents; and appearance of new islets.

The Triassic kraken

Triassic kraken

An artistic rendition of the "Triassic kraken" by HodariNundu.[1]

Mark McMenamin and Dianna Schulte McMenamin argued that a formation of multiple ichthyosaur fossils (belonging to the genus shonisaurus) placed together at Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park may represent evidence of a gigantic cephalopod or Triassic Kraken that killed the ichthyosaurs and intentionally arranged their bones in the unusual pattern seen at the site.[4]

Opponents have challenged the theory as too far-fetched to be credible and it has been characterised as pseudoscience. Paul Myers believes that a much simpler explanation is that the rows of vertebral discs may be a result of the ichthyosaurs having fallen to one side or the other after death and rotting in that position, while Ryosuke Motani, a paleontologist at the University of California, Davis, has alternately proposed that the bones may have been moved together by ocean currents because of their circular shape. McMenamin has dismissed both of these concerns as not being in accord with either the sequence of bone placement or the hydrodynamics of the site. McMenamin was later quoted as saying: "When you consider that all other explanations for the Ichthyosaur death assemblage have failed, the plausibility goes up. It is currently the leading hypothesis, and none of the critics so far has proposed a fatal or even relatively significant objection."[4]

Mark and Dianna McMenamin presented new evidence favoring the existence of the hypothesized Triassic Kraken on October 31, 2013 at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver, Colorado. Commentator David Fastovsky, speaking to the press after the talk, attempted to critique McMenamins' quantitative argument, but Fastovsky neglected to account for the fact that the vertebral array is both hydrodynamically unstable and could not have formed by passive collapse of a vertebral column because the vertebrae are out of order. McMenamin's probabilistic calculations assume currents strong enough to displace individual vertebrae, but the main argument holds even if no currents were present. Adolf Seilacher has noted that this ichthyosaur bone arrangement "has never been observed at other localities".[4]

Kraken in popular culture

Kraken Pirates of the Caribbean

Concept art of the Kraken, a creature with the appearance of a stylized giant squid, yet much larger.

In the Pirates of the Caribbean series, the Kraken - often referred to as a leviathan - is a giant sea monster, and the pet animal of Davy Jones. Closely resembling a giant squid, the Kraken was a fearsome creature, said to be the length of 10 ships. Its tentacles could reach to the top of a ship's mainmast and capsize a fully-rigged vessel with little effort. A single one of the suckers on the Kraken's tentacles were strong enough to pull the flesh clean away from a sailor's face in a fantastic way, and under Davy Jones' command, the Kraken brought the Flying Dutchman ever more unfortunate souls, dying sailors forever impressed into servitude on the cursed ship.

Clash of the Titans Kraken

An artistic rendition of the Kraken's attack in the remake, showing its entire body.

In Clash of the Titans, the Kraken is a sea monster of tremendous size and strength, which can swim at high speeds and is reffered to as a titan by the Stygian witches. In the original 1981 film, it is the pet of Poseidon, and Zeus orders it to destroy Argos to punish its king Acrisius, for casting his wife and Perseus into the sea. The goddess of the sea, Thetis, then unleashes it on the city of Joppa, using it as an excuse to punish Perseus. Andromeda was offered to be sacrificed on Thetis' decree as Poseidon releases the Kraken. Perseus uses Medusa's Head turns the Kraken to stone. In the 2010 remake, the Kraken is seen in the beginning of the movie, as the narrator explains the creature was created by Hades in order to slay the titans. After the war, the god was tricked by his siblings into ruling the underworld. That action invoked Hades' hatred, as he was betrayed even after his crucial part in the Titanomachy. It is assumed that Zeus forced Hades to lock up the Kraken so he wouldn't harm anyone, as the gods feared its power. The Kraken was released onto Argos to destroy it, but Perseus slayed it with Medusa's head that turned it to stone. The 2010 Kraken was mostly designed by Jerad Marantz. In Clash of the Titans: The Videogame, a dramatically altered Kraken is fought as a boss.

Kraken Dungeon Defenders

The Kraken as it spawns.

In Dungeon Defenders, the Kraken is the boss for the third part of the Quest for the Lost Eternia Shards DLC, featured in the underwater town of Aquanos. He possesses a significant regenerative ability, and spawns the final boss wave of Aquanos with multiple tentacles projecting out the back of its body. It will remain invulnerable until all of its tentacles have been destroyed. Similar to other boss waves, endless waves of monsters will spawn while heroes attempt to defeat the beast, the map gradually filling up with water as the fight goes on, which limits attack and movement speed. The Kraken will fire blasts of water at heroes from a distance, whiping its tentacles if players closes the range, significantly knocking them back. The Kraken may fire homing spines from each of its tentacles, dealing significant damage. Once all his tentacles are destroyed, it will release a damaging gas.

Kraken Marvel

The kraken of Wolverine/Hercules: Myths, Monsters & Mutants.

In the Marvel Comics, the kraken race had existed for several millennia within the universe of Earth-616. The first kraken made multiple appearances in Marvel continuity, including The Avengers #27 (April 1966), Tales to Astonish #93 and Sub-Mariner #27 (July 1970), before returning years later in the second issue of the limited series Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1 to #5 (June to August 2007), and in The New Invaders #4 (April 2014). A kraken appeared in the short story "When Strikes The Kraken!" in Kull The Destroyer #17 (October 1976), and was reprinted in Chronicles of Kull 2: The Hell Beneath Atlantis and Other Stories. Another kraken (a gigantic squid) debuted in the black and white Bizarre Adventures #26 (May 1981). A creature called The Black Kraken debuted in the short story "Red Shadows and Black Kraken!" (based on the 1968 fantasy novel Conan of the Isles written by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter featuring Robert E. Howard's hero Conan the Barbarian. The story is republished in the graphic novel Conan of the Isles.) in Conan The Barbarian Annual #7 (1982). Another version of the Kraken (four-armed and reptilian in appearance) debuted in Marvel Comics Presents #121 (January 1993). It returned in Marvel Action Hour featuring the Fantastic Four #2 to #4 (December 1994 to February 1995) and in the one shot title Namora #1 (August 2010); it would later be featured in the video game Marvel Ultimate Alliance. A kraken (a horned squid creature) appeared in the 2009 one-shot comic Sub-Mariner Comics: 70th Anniversary Special, while another (a house sized crab/octopus hybrid) appeared in Fantomex Max issues #2 and #3. This kraken was modified into a remote controlled cyborg to protect an underwater base of a brilliant scientist. Two additional versions possessed ties to Greek mythology. The first served the Olympian gods and debuted in the one shot Chaos War: God Squad #1 (February 2011) before returning in Incredible Hulk #622 (April 2011). The second kraken appeared in the four-part limited series Wolverine/Hercules: Myths, Monsters & Mutants. Spirited away by the god Poseidon after a defeat by Greek hero Perseus, the creature is revived in modern times by King Eurystheus to battle the heroes Hercules and Wolverine.

Kraken God of War

The profile of the Kraken, showing a full body view.

In God of War II, the Kraken is a giant meat-eating sea monster, and the last boss before reaching the sisters of fate. Notably, it only displays four tentacles, two used to support its body by curling around the pillars in the area and two used for battle, which are equipped with a heavy spiked black armor-like exoskeleton. Its head has two large eyes, a massive, fanged mouth, and small spines or gills along its sides. It also has oozing sores on its forehead and two main tentacles, holding on to two giant pillars. The Kraken attacks Kratos by slamming at him with its giant tentacles and by spitting slime from its mouth. Due to its immense size, it was strong enough to kill Kratos by squeezing him to death. That was until he had a vision of Gaia (impersonating Lysandra), who gave him the Rage of the Titans upgrade at this time, allowing him to free himself from the Kraken's death grasp in the nick of time. Kratos attacked the beast's face with the help of Icarus' wings. Enough damage made the beast slam its spiked tentacle into the wall or floor, allowing Kratos to climb up and cut the tentacles from the Kraken's body. In the end, Kratos kills the monster by dislodging it from the platform and impaling it through the mouth with an extendable bridge. Doing this also makes a path for Kratos to reach the Phoenix.

Kraken Fairly Oddparents

The "Cracken" rampaging.

In The Fairly OddParents, the Kraken (credited as Cracken) is a giant aggressive squid-like sea monster debuted in the episode "Beach Blanket Bozos". It appeared when Timmy Turner wished for a super-scary surf course for his parents so that they would stop surfing and end the wish limbo (a condition in which two people are wished to be the best at something at the same time, resulting in a seemingly endless competition), and Cosmo included this creature in it. The Kraken grabbed Timmy, Cosmo, Wanda and Poof with its tentacles, and Mom and Dad decided to stop competing with each other to save their son and "those green, pink and purple sea creatures". But after giving up with the competition, they became lousy surfers again, and could only throw seaweed at it. The Kraken was about to eat Timmy's parents when the latter wished for a giant wave to take it away. Later at the Luau, Timmy wanted to get "crackin'", so Cosmo poofed up the Cracken again and was mauled by it.

Kraken Saint Seiya

Isaac's official artwork.

In the second saga of the Saint Seiya manga series, a servant of Poseidon and one of the main antagonists was called Kraken Isaac (クラーケンのアイザック, Kurāken no Aizakku), introduced as a former childhood friend and fellow saint trainee of main character Cygnus Hyoga. Isaac debuted in volume 16, published in 1989 by Shueisha, and was blessed by the god of the seas with the scales of Kraken, one of the seven highest ranked among the living armors of Atlantis. He possessed abilities related mainly to ice, and his main battle technique was the Aurora Borealis, a powerful blast of cold wind. He was, like Hyoga, trained by Aquarius Camus in the original manga, and by the filler character Crystal Saint in the anime.

In Terry Brooks' 1985 novel The Wishsong of Shannara, a kraken is a large sea creature. It was summoned by the Mord Wraiths using "dark magic" in order to defeat their dwarven enemies, but was killed by Garet Jax.

Kraken Age of Mythology

A kraken.

In Age of Mythology, krakens are Heroic Age myth units available to Norse followers of Njord. They are capable of sinking ships and throwing humans, attacking with their long tentacles. They are dangerous in combat due to their ability to instantly destroy ships and their large amount of hitpoints, which makes killing them a difficult task. Near the shore they can pick up and throw human soldiers in a manner similar to the cyclopses' ability. The best way to kill them is with heroes, assuming they can reach them, or other naval myth units.

The television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea featured an episode called "The Village of Guilt", in which a failed experiment creates a giant octopus which then terrorizes the population of a Norwegian fjord.

Kraken A Song of Ice and Fire

The Greyjoy sigil.

In the fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and the HBO series Game Of Thrones, the Kraken is the sigil of House Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. It is also a legendary beast among the people of Westeros. In A Storm of Swords, the Smoking Sea north of Valyria is described by Jorah Mormont as "a demon-haunted and a treacherous route, where krakens could pull their ship under". In the same book, Varys states that a kraken had been seen off the rocky area known as 'the Fingers'. It reportedly attacked and sunk an Ibbenese whaler ship. In The Winds of Winter, Lady Valena Toland tells Princess Arianne Martell that there are tales of krakens off the Broken Arm, pulling under crippled galleys. Valena says their maester claims that the blood draws them to the surface, adding that there were bodies in the water, a few washed up on Ghost Hill's shores.

In Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby Dick (chapter 59) the crew of the Pequod encounters a "vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length". Starbuck calls it "the great live squid", that "few whale ships ever beheld and returned to their ports to tell of it". Narrator Ishmael attributes this to Bishop Pontopiddan's "the great Kraken," and concludes: "By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish, to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would seem to belong, but only as the Anak of the tribe."


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