Call me Ishmael: the great white Ningen

Sea monsters! Out of all cryptids, I find them to be the most plausible. We’ve only explored about 20% of the world’s oceans, and in that 20% have already found a lot of weird crap. Who’s to say there couldn’t be something stranger out there?

On an unspecified date in the early 90’s, on the lonely, icy waters of the Antarctic, a 60-foot long, pearly white something broke the waves next to a Japanese research vessel. Fearing that it might be a foreign submarine, crewmen ran to the railing to get a better look at it. Then they noticed that it had skin. And arms. And a face.

Before they could scream, the thing resubmerged, and the legend of the Ningen began.


It’s worth pausing to note the significance of the word “ningen”: In Japanese, it means (roughly) “human.” Naming a giant horror of a creature “human” suggests that behind the Ningen’s humanoid shape, the crewman perceived some uncanny intelligence or spirit. Given that the Ningen can get up to 90 feet long, that is something to be reckoned with.

Typical descriptions of the Ningen make it sound like an f-ed up mermaid: giant, bald, and white, it has (as I have mentioned) two arms and even five-fingered hands. Its nose-less face features only black eyes and a slit mouth. Its feet are often combined into an enormous fin, so that it can shoot through the antarctic waters at killer whale speed.

Those are the typical descriptions. Other descriptions characterize the Ningen as a roughly human-sized blob on two feet. How that and the god-like whale thing are categorized as the same creature, I’ll never know. For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick with the behemoth mermaid version, because clearly it is the superior one.

You can find the Ningen mostly in the cold waters of the Antarctic, possibly relying on hydrothermal vents to warm their freakishly human hands. What little information there is on them originated from an online forum called 2channel, and later a 2007 article in Mu magazine. The rest is internet speculation frenzy.

I don’t even know, man.

There have been plenty of photos and videos released of supposed Ningen (or artistic interpretations thereof), but most of these are pretty clearly faked (or hilarious, as in the example to the right). Ningen believers claim this is because the Japanese government freaked out when researchers brought back photos of their definitely-not-a-submarine; they say officials buried those pictures deep and then entered into ongoing campaign to have further evidence destroyed. Much like with the U.S. government and aliens, non-specific government agencies have supposedly flooded the internet with a bunch of crap to make the public think that the whole thing was bunk and move on, all while they work on Top Secret Research about the creatures in the background.

It’s not impossible that there is something weird out there in the deep, cold ocean, and that there were real researchers that really saw it. But what was it that they saw? Cryptid and mystery-hunting sites have offered a number of explanations.

1. Ice.

Unsexy but fair. A lot of the pictures (especially this one and this one) look like ice chunks.

2. Funky-looking sharks, whales, or squid.

This is to say that the Ningen could either have been one of these creatures that was misidentified as a strange and god-like being, or could be a new species of one of these.

Manta ray

3. A giant new species of manta ray.

I find manta rays horrifying enough that this, for me, would be worse than a 90-foot humanoid whale thing.

4. An aquatic sloth.


5. Some kind of killer whale-type dealio that looks kinda human because of convergent evolution.

Unclear what exactly we’d be convergently evolving to handle, but hey.

6. A U.S.O.

Remember Lake Baikal? The counterpoint to U.F.O.s are U.S.O.s–unidentified submersible objects. This author offers that the Ningen might be some kind of alien ship. Go big or go home, right? And since we’re on the subject…

7. Aliens.

I mean…a lot of sea creatures do look like aliens. Proponents of this theory point out that it’s really weird that nobody noticed the ginormous Ningen swimming around until the 90’s. Rather than presume that’s because someone made them up, what if it was actually because the Ningen weren’t around until then? This would go a ways toward explaining why the government might be so eager to cover them up.

Anyway. With our ongoing climate-change-and-ocean-acidification nonsense, I think it’s safe to say that we’re probably pissing the Ningen off. Maybe they’ll use their strangely human hands to rip a ship in half, or at least to give Google Earth a rude gesture. I, for one, can’t wait.

What is your favorite fish-related pun? Let minnow.

Photo cred: Pixabay for the Arctic ripples, Michael Van WoertRodin for the two-legged Ningen, and asands for the manta ray.

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