Sailors Share the Most Unexplainable Things They Have Ever Seen at Sea

Photo Courtesy: powerofforever/iStock

The surface of our planet consists of 71% oceans that account for 97% of the water in the world, yet the vast majority of the world’s oceans remain a mystery. It’s easy to let your imagination run wild when you think about what might be beneath the seas that we know nothing about.

Underwater mysteries aren’t new — but can be absolutely enthralling. Beneath the ocean waves, there are many things we can’t even begin to imagine. For your viewing pleasure, we compiled a list of personal accounts of some of the most shocking and amazing occurrences to ever take place on the water.

Dolphins Leaving Bioluminescent Trails

We were sailing on a 134-foot, double-masted steel brigantine through an area of high biological productivity in the north Atlantic one night. My shipmate was on bow watch. I was on the quarter-deck assisting the mate with whatever needed to be done. I suddenly heard my shipmate yelling my name and saying I needed to come up to the bow as quickly as I could.

When I got up there, I saw seven or eight bottlenose dolphins swimming through the bioluminescent water right under the bow of our boat. Every inch of them glowed green. It was like something out of a dream. They looked like glow in the dark torpedoes. When we looked out across the horizon, we saw green spots everywhere. There must have been close to 30 dolphins swimming around. We got almost the entire crew out of bed to come watch. That was definitely something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

A Ritual That Actually Summoned Fish

My buddy that grew up in Hawaii has a ton of crazy tales of the sea. He told me one about this old man that survived from bringing in fish from the sea. My friend went out on the boat with him, and he watched the old man do some sort of ritual of hitting the boat and the water. He said he saw bubbles starting to rise to the surface, and an old barracuda came up, along with many smaller fish. The man collected the smaller fish, thanked the barracuda, and it returned to the depths. He did this every day and sold the fish as a way of living.

Nature Is Happy to Show Off

I was out on Lake Michigan early on in the summer. It was a really warm day, but the water was really cold still. Much like a hot day on the tarmac, this created mirages. The only difference was that the mirages were inverted since the air was much warmer than the water. So, if you looked at a boat in the distance or the Chicago skyline across the lake, you would see a mirror image of the object in the air above the actual object. It also made the sand dunes in the distance look like a sheer cliff that was painted in watercolor. It was really trippy.

Their Eyes Weren’t Playing Tricks on Them

I was sailing in the Caribbean for five weeks a few years ago when I was 16, somewhere between Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago. It was nighttime, and I was on watch with a fellow kid and our head instructor. We’re sailing along, looking at the stars and talking about stuff, when all of a sudden a very bright light appears in the sky. In the blink of an eye, it had lit up everything we could see for miles around, as though there had been a full moon (there was no moon).

We couldn’t discern anything about the shape of the source of light. It was just a bright dot flying across the sky. Our best guesses were that it was a satellite or meteor, but I’ve never known either of those things to be that bright. I also saw it again one or two nights later, but neither of those people was on watch with me.

What He Found at Sea Changed His Life

I worked at a boat rental rock during my late teens. I was sailing around my local harbor for a quick little lap after work. I got out to the middle of the bay and saw something struggling in the water. I sailed closer and took a pass — it was a puppy. I went back to do another pass, and I got close enough to grab it by the scruff of its neck. I took it home, and it was the best dog my parents ever had.

You, Too, Can Find a Message in a Bottle

I was maybe 8 or 9. We were boating around the San Juan Islands, and my sister saw something glinting in the ocean. My dad pulled the boat up next to it and pulled a freaking letter in a bottle out of the water. It said basically to go to these coordinates (on a nearby island) to get his “treasure.” We went there and found a chest under a log.

Eerie Darkness and Complete Quiet Showing No Signs Of Life

Navy sailor here with two deployments to the Gulf. My ship found two “ghost ships” — one was drifting with no power in the Indian Ocean. No response on bridge-to-bridge and no visible signs of life or electricity. The other was stuck on an outcrop of rocks off the coast of Oman, completely abandoned. We wound up using it as target practice for an F-18 to clear a structural hazard to the waterway.

A Manatee in Disguise

I was canoeing on the coast of Florida, and my wife said, “Let’s paddle up to that log.” We did, and right before we reached it, the “log” snorted heavily and swam away. It freaked me out. My wife laughed because she knew it was a manatee and knew what would happen. She grew up in Florida.

He Wasn’t Trying to Surprise You…

I almost hit a sea turtle the size of a mattress off the coast of Washington. It suddenly appeared, and I threw the engine in reverse and swerved hard to port, throwing passengers off their seats in the process. I looked out the starboard window as I went by and saw two eyes staring at me on a head the size of a basketball.

Hey, Penguins Need Vacations Too

I saw a penguin swimming around in the Gulf of Mexico. A friend invited me to go fishing offshore when I was visiting him. While out there, he pointed out the funny black and white bird in the distance that would occasionally dive down. He proclaimed it was a penguin. I calmly explained there was zero, zilch, NO WAY that was a penguin. I explained currents, geography, water temperature, etc. We floated closer to it. It was a penguin. We snapped a few pics of it. Back at home, a few minutes on Wikipedia told us it was Spheniscus demersus. Go figure.

Sea Creatures Falling from the Sky

I was on a yacht delivery across the Gulf of Mexico, heading from the Dry Tortugas to Key West when there was a series of wap, wap, wappapa wap noises above us. We looked up in time to see a bunch of flying fish hitting the sail, just as the first of them started falling and flopping all over the deck. 

The Water Has a Mood That’s Quieter Than Quiet

The most amazing thing is the non-sound of wind. When you’re on shore, wind rustles through the trees, moves wind chimes, makes birds chirp, etc. Way off shore, none of those sounds exist. It’s very eerie to feel the wind but have it make no noise. It’s just a force that moves across your skin and then gently leaves without a sound.

A Whale’s Hole in One

I was walking along the beach with my girlfriend, when all of a sudden I hear someone scream, “Is anyone here a marine biologist?” Being a marine biologist myself, I ran over to the commotion. What I saw was a beached whale with a golf ball stuck in its blowhole. I removed the golf ball, and the beach-goers helped me push the whale back into the ocean. The sea was angry that day, my friends.

A Sweet Visitor Who Isn’t Afraid to Say Hello

This isn’t too amazing, but it was really cool at the time for me. While in Cape Cod, right off the shore of Nauset Beach near East Orleans, about seven years ago, I was on the family boat, a 24-foot Grady white. We were sitting there looking at the seals in the water feeding on some sort of bait fish when we saw one of them split off the pack. Now, keep in mind that we were almost 100 yards away, so we were surprised to see that this seal was headed in our direction. He must have been very interested.

It didn’t take more than 30 seconds for this guy to come right up to the side of the boat we were on, and, I kid you not, it just treaded water and looked at us for about five minutes. We were all taking pictures and “talking” to this kind visitor as most people would do, all while he calmly watched us. After we had put down our cameras and sat back down, still watching our new friend, he swam off and went back to his seal buddies to continue feeding. It was truly an amazing experience for me.

Subject of Passenger Trauma

When I was a kid, we used to take the hovercraft across the English Channel, which I hated, even more so after the particular day of force-nine gales. I remember waiting to board but being told that it was too rough for the crossing. Then, eventually, they said they’d do it, and we all got on. But instead of just being the usual 25 minutes, it took much longer because the hovercraft had to go along the English coast first to try and find a safe passage across the channel. I remember quite vividly the usually beautiful white cliffs of Dover careening up and down past the spray-covered porthole windows while I felt very ill.


The Ocean’s Misleading Aura of Comfort

I got to swim in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I’m a very good swimmer and have never had any fears of the water ever. As soon as I jumped in (the water is very clear when you’re away from the shore line), I couldn’t help but notice how deep and big the ocean is. It was a very unsettling feeling, so I got out immediately. I would never do that again.

Surrounding Sounds in the Deep

It’s not about what I saw but about what I heard. I was on a 688i second flight class boat for part of my career in the U.S. Navy. We were heading from Hawaii to Japan, moving fast, so you tend not to see a whole lot on sonar because of flow noise unless you’re close.

SAWS (Situational awareness systems) reported a transient sound and said it was weird, but there was no trace on the screen so it wasn’t a distant source. It was all around us. I switched my station over to broadband, so I could see and hear what SAWS was seeing and hearing and started listening. Sure enough, I heard it too. It was a sound like crystal bells ringing with no defined source, except I had more sensors at my disposal because I could flip through any configuration. The sounds, whatever they were, were deeper than we were and were all around us by the end of it.

I still don’t know what it was, but we always called them the deep ones in reference to Cthulhu. It was the type of thing that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up to listen to, though. I was in one of the deadliest hunter-killers, powered by a nuclear reactor, and that kind of sound made you imagine something much bigger out in the depths.


Sea Creatures Can’t Hide When They’re Being Hunted

I used to work on an educational tall ship in California. One time, we were lucky enough to encounter a pod of orcas. As we followed them, they picked up speed, and we realized they were after a huge pod of common dolphins. They split up, flanked the dolphins, and all of a sudden we see a dolphin get knocked into the air, followed by a lot of red water.

Too Close for Comfort

I was pleasure sailing with a lady off the coast of Australia. A great white shark burst out of the ocean with a seal in its mouth and fell within 6 feet of our vessel. We had both been snorkeling earlier that day.

Hungry Dolphin Shatters Peaceful Stereotypes

I was pulling in a massive squid on the surface, letting it de-ink, when a huge black shape came out of the water and took it. I initially thought it was a shark as it was brutal, but it was a “nice, gentle” dolphin. If I ever hear another person tell me dolphins are beautiful or gentle, I’ll point out my great-white-type experience with a dolphin.


Modern Pirates and Their Shady Behavior

I was sailing with a couple of buddies, and we came across this powerboat seemingly stranded. When we went up to it, a ton of people came out on deck with iPhones recording us and demanding we give them a lift to shore. They were super shady-looking guys, and we did not let them on. As we started sailing away, they were shouting, and one guy lifted his shirt and showed us his weapon. We took off.


Live Animals Aren’t Meant for Jousting

I own a jet ski, so I like to consider myself a slight sailor. I was speeding up and down the middle of the lake next to my house when I hit something underwater, and it caused the jet ski to come off the water a few inches. I came to a stop and turned around to — low and behold — a gator floating upside down in the water next to me. I didn’t stick around to find out if it was conscious, but I like to think I jousted an alligator that day.

A Small Boat Won’t Work as a Submarine

I was sailing my Splash Dinghy (11 feet) on the sea for the first time at a regatta in Weymouth (UK) back in 2012. The winds/waves were Force Six. So I was running down wind when all of a sudden the bow of my boat plunged into the water, lifting the entire rear end up out of the water. I managed to recover her and continue, but I’ll never forget the sight of all that water rushing over and past the deck and mast. I felt as if my dinghy suddenly became a submarine.

Sea Creatures Bring Children’s Books to Life

While serving in the U.S. Navy in the early ’90s, we were in the Adriatic. One morning at about dawn, I saw through my lookout glasses what looked like a pole sticking straight out of the water. We were in the middle of the sea, so I didn’t know what to make of seeing that out there in the mirror-like seas.

As the ship approached it, I reported seeing a pole sticking out of the water. As we passed it by, I could see what it was. It was a sunfish, and having never seen one before because my home is as inland as you can get, I was super thrilled, because it looked exactly how my illustrated children’s books on sea life described it. The 10-year-old in me rejoiced about seeing one.

A High-Powered Nightlight on the Horizon

While on a crossing from the Bahamas to Charleston, South Carolina, I was on watch in the middle of the night and saw a strange bright orange light rising up from the horizon until it flickered out. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but when we got to shore I saw in the newspaper there was a rocket launch in Florida.

A Chilling Ice Tale Three Stories Tall

I was on a boat in Alaska, and we were right near a glacier. On our way away from the glacier, we saw a small piece of ice fall off one of the icebergs. About two minutes later, right in the spot where the boat had been a minute before, a massive piece of ice shot out of the water. It had to be three stories tall and at least 15 yards wide, and it shot 30 feet into the air and settled down to a height of about 10 feet above the surface of the water. I have no idea how that could have happened.

Leap Frog? No, Leap Spotted Eagle-Ray

My parents were out fishing off the coast of Florida when a massive spotted eagle-ray with a 6-foot fin/wingspan leapt out of the ocean, flew right over the boat and their heads, close enough to touch, and then splashed into the water on the other side.

These Eagles Have Swift Reflexes

It was a beautiful day off the coast of Juneau, Alaska, and we were hobby fishing for salmon when we caught a small fish. We noticed a large bald eagle soaring overhead and decided to try and throw the fish to the eagle to give him an easy lunch. My father-in-law threw the fish up in the air, and the eagle swooped down, grabbing it out of the air before it hit the water. I was pretty stunned the eagle was so ready to catch a fish like that, but it seems his reflexes were pretty eagle-eyed, for sure.

A Ghost in the Hall During Night Watch

I’m training on big ships right now, and on the training vessel, I have to stand night watches. Down in the ships, steering gear at 2 to 4 a.m. is not fun when you’re in an isolated room. Sometimes, it sounds like a girl is talking down the hall, but you know no one’s in there because there’s only one entrance. It’s the scariest thing.

The Silver Lining of Running from a Bear

I was paddling a canoe with some friends on a trip in Quebec (I think it was in the Lac Mistassini area). One evening, a bear showed up fairly close to our campsite, so we decided the best option was to break camp and paddle through the night to our next site, about a 10-hour paddle away. Paddling under the stars was cool enough with aurora borealis and very little light pollution, but I’ll never forget the bolide (superbolide?) that zoomed across the sky and was bright enough to light up the area like it was daytime. I believe something similar happened in Thailand. It really was a once in a lifetime visual effect.