The ocean is one of the most simultaneously fascinating and terrifying aspects of nature. Amazing things happen within the ocean at all times of the day and we very rarely get the opportunity to witness them. Sometimes we have the opportunity to witness the absolutely jarring power of the ocean and it reminds us how small we truly are.
Let's take a look at some stories of people that witnessed the power of the ocean firsthand and, in some cases, were lucky to live to tell about it.
All posts have been edited for clarity.
“It was definitely giant spears plunging in and out of the sea.
In the Gulf of Alaska, I had seen some crazy things. But one of the most terror-inspiring things I had seen was what could happen with some of the loose logs from the logging trade.
Sometimes when a big log got loose from a raft, it would become partially waterlogged and float small-end up. So there would be a four-foot diameter telephone pole in the sea, sticking up forty feet into the air. These weren’t a big deal because they showed up on the radar, and were easy to spot.
Now, give the pole twenty years of floating around or so. They would rot in such a way that it became filed to a point by wind and waves, and looked quite menacing.
Combine that with twenty-five to fifty-foot waves and it became a towering spike of death that shot up from the sea every fifteen to twenty minutes, out of nowhere, sixty feet into the air, only to plunge down into the dark depths waiting to skewer some unsuspecting boat in a few minutes when it would thrust out of the ocean again.
It was a genuine terrifying sight. They were rare but not so rare that I hadn’t seen at least two in every season. It’s like the spiked pole of Neptune looking for an opportunity to mess up your ship in a particularly terrifying way.”
The Ocean Boomerang
“I worked on tug boats for about six years. The back deck of our tug boat was considered a wet deck meaning it wasn’t unusual for it to be underwater at times.
We were making tow with an oil rig at sea with waves that were fourteen to sixteen feet high and one hit us just right, took my co-worker, ‘Greg,’ and pulled him out to sea.
That was around three o’clock in the morning and it was pitch black outside. That was nearly always a death sentence.
About twenty seconds later, which felt like an eternity, another wave brought Greg back on deck and plopped him safely on his rear end right next to the winch.
Greg laughed and got right back to work without missing a beat.”
“We were motoring my thirty-two-foot sailboat back to our homeport and we were fighting a very very strong current. We couldn’t raise our sails because we had some twenty-five-mile-per-hour winds and we weren’t ready to handle that. So we were very slowly motoring along and our homeport was in view when the engine sputtered and died. We had run out of gas.
We were in a bit of a situation as the king’s tide started to pull us in the other direction. That in itself wasn’t that scary, but we were going about four miles-per-hour backward and soon we couldn’t see homeport anymore. It got dark very fast.
My dad radioed the coastguard and informed them of our predicament and location. The coastguard was reluctant to help because we could just raise our sails and sail home, but at the time my dad was the only one with any serious experience and the boat was new to us because we had only just gotten it. We also hadn’t replaced the broken mast light yet.
It was dark then and even though we could have sailed safely at the point, the wind had nearly died. We also didn’t have a mast light so my dad didn’t feel comfortable sailing at night. We had been out for around eight hours by then and it was freaking me out.
It was all dead silent, when the radio crackling to life gave me a very real reason to freak out. It was the coastguard advising us to look outside. I won’t ever forget how I looked out, and a square of the sky had been cut out and replaced with solid black. We hadn’t heard anything at all, and this terrifyingly monstrous tanker was passing twenty meters next to us.
We had drifted into the shipping routes, and our mast light wasn’t working. It was so creepily silent. If we had been just a little more to the left we would have been in a very bad situation. The coastguard came and got us pretty quickly after that.”
“We were on a glass-bottom boat tour in Hanauma Bay in Hawaii and were headed to an area well known for humpback whales to gather, breed and nurse. The tour operator said they weren’t allowed to approach closer than one hundred feet, but there were often large groups of whales in the area so the chances of seeing a couple were very high.
When the boat was in transit there was a stream of agitated water under the hull so we couldn’t see anything, I thought the whole glass-bottom thing was a scam until we stopped moving, then the view was incredible. The water was a beautiful blue and visibility seemed unlimited. We had stopped over top of a reef of sorts and the diversity of sea life was amazing.
The tour operator, who was a grizzled old Islander tanned a dark shade of brown, was on the intercom describing the amazing sights below our feet. He spoke with the laid back chilled-out voice you would expect from a guy whose job was being on vacation in Hawaii.
We hadn’t seen any humpbacks up close though, just a few breaches a long way off when suddenly the view in the glass bottom was obscured by bubbles, a whale had swum, at high speed, right under the boat. Then another, and another, it suddenly turned into a conveyor belt of whales. They started rubbing up against and bumping into the boat. The boat was maybe seventy-five feet long and held about a hundred people, but the impacts were enough to make us slide around on the plastic benches.
Everyone was looking down through the glass bottom, but I glanced up for a second, and we were surrounded, on all sides, by whales eight to ten deep. At first, the tour operator was gushing with excitement and said this had never happened to him in thirty years, how lucky we were, and how amazing it was. He said the whales were forty-five to sixty feet long and could weigh forty tons. They were so graceful for their size, all covered in barnacles. It was great fun, the whales seemed quite playful.
Then the bumping intensified to the point where all the passengers were sliding on the plastic benches, crashing into one another and a few fell onto the floor. People were screaming and children were crying. Obvious fear started creeping into the tour operator’s voice, and that fear percolated down to the tourists. Eventually, he stopped talking, and we all just resigned ourselves to our fate. We realized at that moment how small and helpless we were, and how big and wild Mother Nature is.
It went on and on, for about twenty minutes. It was so long it wasn’t even fun anymore. The whales seemed to be terrorizing us. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they disappeared. Literally one second we were engulfed in a maelstrom and the next second we were alone on the ocean. The boat captain started the engines and we headed back to the shore.
Everyone sat in stunned silence, husbands consoled wives, women comforted children, not even the tour operator spoke for the thirty-minute journey back to shore. As we approached the dock he came back on the intercom with his sales pitch about recommending him to others, but his voice was still pretty shaky. I thought, it probably took a lot to rattle that guy, we were probably in more danger than we knew.”
“I was working on a car carrier four years ago in the Middle East. Our typical route went through pirate waters at times, so we always picked up four ex-marines as security in Aqaba, Jordan before we went.
One night while we were going through pirate waters off of Yemen, we started to have problems with the main engine. We stopped and had to drift for a bit to figure out what the problem was.
During at time, I was working on the stern, back end, of the vessel. I couldn’t really see anything out in the ocean because everything was dimly lit on the ship. I don’t know why, but I got bored and turned on the spotlight.
There he was, this guy with a weapon in a rusted little boat staring at me about fifteen feet from the ship.
I just stared back at him, kind of stunned. I was afraid if I reached for the radio to call one of the marines, who had weapons, he would shoot me.
So he looked at me and I looked at him.
He sort of gave me a nod as if he was telling me, ‘Well played,’ and I gave him one back.
Then he slowly rowed his boat back off into the deep pitch-black night. I didn’t know how many others there were but I did call it in on the radio as soon as I lost sight of him.
I still remember his face today, that deep stern concentrated look.”
“Two years ago, I was about one hundred fifty miles offshore from Long Island, New York, on a thirty-one-foot boat. We were trolling for yellowfin tuna.
In the distance, we saw two huge fins coming out of the water so we headed towards them thinking it was a couple of sharks. As we got closer, we realized it was one big shark.
It was just cruising slowly at the surface, not even the slightest bit disturbed by us approaching. Once we got up next to it we realized that the shark was almost as big as the boat. It had to be at least twenty-five feet long and several thousand pounds.
I was in absolute shock as we passed it. I had never seen a shark even close to that big. I had seen plenty of whales, turtles, dolphins, sharks, and all kinds of crazy things out at sea but never a predator that large. It was definitely not a whale shark. That thing was a killer.
I wanted to say that it was a tiger shark but the internet said they don’t even get close to that big so I really just don’t know. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but I was just frozen. I couldn’t even move to grab my phone. I will never forget that moment. The ocean is an incredible place.”
“A friend and I were crossing the North Sea a couple of years ago, and we experienced some rough seas. We were managing it well but filled the cockpit a couple of times when large waves broke over us. Thankfully, the safety harnesses had done their job.
After a few hours, everything seemed to calm down a bit and we could actually sit down and steer huddled under the sprayhood. That was when I saw a wall of white coming at us from the side.
I instantly braced and realized my friend wouldn’t have time to react but I manage to get one word out, ‘VÅG,’ which means wave.
Milliseconds later it hit, and the last thing I saw was my friend’s face just at the moment of comprehension, but before reaction.
It hit with one incredibly loud bang, rolling us over and filling the cockpit. The wave was truly massive and we had some damages to the boat and our egos, but that seemed to be the last efforts of the ocean god to bring us down that night because after that there were no more rogue waves.
My friend usually recounts the moment he saw my face change, from a relaxed expression to that stricken with sheer horror, and just having enough time to think he was about to go under.”
“My father used to be a commercial fisherman. One day, he noticed that there was a t-shirt in the middle of his net after one tow.
After a little investigation, he found that it was not a shirt, but a human torso wearing a shirt. He said he was terrified that he would open the net and a head would roll out onto his feet, but it didn’t happen.
His captain radioed ahead and they brought the torso back to the docks, where they were met by the police and a coroner. They were eventually able to identify the body, based on the clothing, as a victim of a plane crash that had occurred fairly recently. My dad said he offered a free lobster to the coroner, who graciously accepted it until he found out that it had been found in the net with the body. After that, he got angry and told him to throw it back.”
Alaskan Bull Worm
“Many years ago, a family friend took me out to sea for the first time. I had never been fishing or on a boat and had always wanted to go. We went out into the Gulf of Mexico.
According to him, we were about three miles out. We just planned to hang out on the boat for half the day and fish a little. I saw a shadow approaching that looked like it was coming from a giant cloud overhead. It stretched a few hundred feet wide.
I mentioned to my friend how cool it was that we could see an entire cloud’s shadow coming at us out in the ocean. Then I looked up to see which cloud it was. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. It was a clear blue day. The only clouds I could see were on the horizon far off. I had never been on a boat before but still thought that was strange. I suggested that we were just moving toward a high area of land, that was just a few feet deep. He said no because we were anchored.
At that moment, both of our hearts dropped. It was approaching us fast. We had initially been laughing hysterically out of pure amazement and confusion but it quickly turned to fear.
Before we knew it, it was maybe thirty feet away from us. We are just off to the right side of it. As soon as the shadow began to pass under us, the boat got yanked hard. I fell on my back and my friend was holding onto a rail and barely managed not to fall over the side. The boat settled and the shadow continued to move past us. It eventually turned to the right and went out to sea.
My friend and I completely freaked out and decided to just leave. He went to pull the anchor up and there was no anchor. Just the chain where the anchor was attached and it had clearly been ripped off. Whatever the thing was clipped the chain and ripped it off without slowing down at all. That was why the boat yanked so hard.
It was absolutely huge. I would say it was a tad bigger than a football field. It was oval, and the front end was sort of rounded but more pointed than the back. Imagine the shadow of a giant egg with the top facing you.
We still have no leads on what kind of animal was that big and could just bump into an anchor and rip it off like it was made of butter.”
“One day, the whole department was at a meeting in the hangar bays. Out of absolutely nowhere, I heard a massive crack. Then the entire aircraft carrier just plummeted down two feet into the water. A thousand feet of steel just fell down underneath me. I had no idea what was happening. The sound was so loud I thought one of the engine shafts had broke or something.
After about ten minutes, everyone had come back to the shop and soon the waves came. They started out at about five feet which were already huge considering the most usually saw in the harbor were one foot. The announcement came over and explained that there was an earthquake and they were keeping everyone on board for safety until they determined it was clear.
Eventually, the waves got up to about ten feet peak every twenty seconds. They determined that it was starting to become unsafe and no other earthquakes were showing. So they were letting people off the ship about ten at a time. Note that we had three thousand personnel and only about two hundred on duty. I finally got to the crossing platform and I was shocked.
I had never seen the crossing platform at more than a five-degree angle but the thing was nearly vertical. They had to time the waves in order to send people across. I would love to find something that could recreate that sound. I had respected mother nature before that day, but after an earthquake roughly two hundred miles away made waves so quick and harsh that it dropped an aircraft carrier out of the water, and back in, that was the first day I really feared nature.
Another time I was stationed on an aircraft carrier, we sailed through at least three different hurricanes so we wouldn’t have to deal with dock issues. The one I remember the most was a medium-high level one. We sailed through the weak beginning of it but still got about a day of total power. I could literally hear metal bending and twisting on the day of full power. These huge massive walls of water were pushing the ship up out of the water like it was a bath toy only to slam the ship back down in the water. The waves were so crazy that it rolled the aircraft carrier enough to make me lean on the walls. I felt terrible for the smaller boats those days.”
“I was on a sailing boat heading out of the straights of Gibraltar on the way across the Atlantic. I was on watch in the middle of the night and picked up a boat on the radar to the Northeast of us. I watched it coming in, and made a course correction to keep a safe distance and show I intended to pass port side to port side.
Over the next couple of minutes, the other vessel slowly altered course to bring the range down that we would pass. This is a bit of a prick move, but not uncommon. If it was my duty to move out of your way, I would do so and leave a mile clearance as we pass. If they’re off course themselves, some guys will push into that mile to get back to course. They aren’t supposed to, but it happens.
So I figured, there must be a prick at the helm. But the course continued to correct until he was on a collision course with me. By this point, we were quite a lot closer, so I had to make another decent correction to avoid a collision while pointing out the prick move to my buddy on watch with me and try to hail the guy on the radio.
Again, the oncoming boat alters and cuts into that mile. At that point, I was concerned. I asked my buddy to wake the captain. We were not in danger of collision as we were moving a lot quicker than them however we were not maintaining a safe distance anymore. Being off the coast of North Africa there was the chance that we were about to meet some pirates.
So by the time the captain got there, the course was close to collision again. I explained the situation, the captain took command, and made another correction. Still, the boat followed us up but didn’t have the speed to turn this into a collision course.
In the end, we passed at a couple of hundred meters, pointed the searchlight to the boat, and it was about a forty-foot sailing boat under full sail, with wind vane steering and no one at the helm just cruising about wherever it felt like.
The wind had come round by chance as we maneuvered, and left that nutcase with a boat headed down the west coast of Africa when I would guess the destination was supposed to be the Mediterranean. That was quite a creepy watch.”
Nighttime Free Driving
“It was the first night of the lobster season in San Diego, California around two o’clock in the morning. I was out with a friend off a jetty near the harbor, we were probably only twenty meters offshore and fifteen feet below the surface. We had just hopped into the water. We were free diving, with no tanks, so we were at the bottom for about a minute at a time before surfacing and going back down.
We had these large underwater flashlights, and we could only see what we pointed our lights towards because they had a very narrow lens. I was pointing my light into the rocks, my friend was behind me pointing his light toward me. All of a sudden his light got all shaky and he tapped me on my shoulder. I looked at him and he pointed to my left. I spun my light around to the direction he pointed, and a moray eel is about a foot from my face, with its huge jaw gaping open just staring at me. It was sticking out of the rocks about four feet. It was the biggest eel I’ve ever seen.
Those things will take your finger off. Their mouth is like a beak but it will take a good chunk out if it bites you.
I just sat there and made no movements. My heart started racing so my body was telling me to surface to get more oxygen. We both just froze, my light still pointed at the dinosaur-looking freak. It just stared into my eyes, huge beak gaping, the sides of its neck inflating and deflating as it breathed. It slowly retracted into the rocks for about fifteen seconds, staring at me the whole way, and disappeared.
We both surfaced and just kind of looked at each other like, even though we haven’t caught any lobster yet, we have enough lobster for tonight.
We weren’t in any serious danger, but it was just so spooky, being surrounded by blackness with those mono-directional lights that only illuminate a three-foot diameter, the current pushing and pulling us along rocks, while our bodies and the eel remain stationary together. Just extremely creepy. It was a few more days before we went out again, and we went during the day.”