Water can grant life but it can also be a dangerous force depending upon its intensity and form. Very
small whirlpools can be seen spinning when a sink drains, but the powerful whirlpools in nature are magnificent and destructive. A whirlpool of extraordinary size or violence is a maelstrom. The swirling vortex is deadly. Here are 10 exquisite yet lethal maelstroms.
Mightiest Maelstrom in the World
(image via:Visit Norway)Whirlpools are caused by a turbulent flow of water. When moving river water is forced to twist around an object or to stream into a narrower riverbed, the water flows faster and is more likely to create an energetic swirling turbulence. In the ocean, depending upon the geology of the sea bed, driving currents can collide and create conflicting tidal flows. Water spins counterclockwise north of the equator and clockwise south of the equator. The destructive interaction forms a whirlpool, a powerful circular current of water. A maelstrom, the vortex of a violent turbulence, is the most deadly of all.
As we believe a black hole in the depths of uncharted space would suck us in if we venture too close, so did ancient seafaring folk believe a giant whirlpool, a spinning vortex, would suck down ships and sailors to their watery demise. When they sailed the largely unexplored seas, tales were exaggerated of maelstroms and the certain doom of impenetrable ocean depths. Even now though, small boats could be pulled down and sailors are warned to avoid these treacherous waters when the tide is running. Currents speeds increase when the tides change, so even a large boat may find steering impossible until the maelstrom subsides.
Maelstrom of Saltstraumen
(image via:Wikipedia)While the Saltstraumen is the strongest maelstrom, the Moskstraumen is the most famous. Perhaps infamous thanks to Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne. Poe penned a story called A Descent into the Maelstrom and then Verne referred to it at the culmination of the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Herman Melville wrote about it through his character Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick. Moskstraumen is thought to be the first mentioned maelstrom in history.
Referred to as simply Maelstrom, it has the dubious honor of 1500 years worth of descriptions about seafarer’s who met sea monsters and their doom in the treacherous whirlpool. Located off the Lofoten islands, Moskstraumen is the second strongest whirlpool in the world. However there are many people who would dispute the powerful circular currents of water that reach speeds of 17.27 mph as the most destructive maelstrom. Its forceful tidal currents, about five miles wide, flow along a deep marine channel between the Norwegian coast and the open sea.
(image via:Flickr,Craignish Cruises)The third largest maelstrom in the world is located in the relatively narrow Strait of Corryvreckan. Extreme tidal currents surge into whirlpools swirling round and round due in part to its location between two islands off the west coast of Scotland and the pyramidal rock on the sea floor. 30 foot waves swell from a depth of 100 fathoms and the reverberation of nature’s fury is heard from as far as ten miles away. Bewitching and bizarre legends were told by Celtic people about the ominous vortex of churning water that at times appears more green than blue. Corryvreckan was once classified as unsafe for voyage, then “very violent and dangerous,” but writer George Orwell journeyed across the water just the same. Orwell was shipwrecked for a short time.
Some Scottish producers tossed a mannequin with a life jacket into the Corryvreckan or “Brecan’s Cauldron” during a documentary called “Lethal Seas.” The life-size dummy disappeared into the dangerous vortex. When the mannequin was later found far away, there was evidence of it being scraped along the bottom and 262 feet showed on the depth meter. The Discovery Channel picked up the film and aired it as “Sea Twister.”
(image via:Eastern Maine,Bay of Fundy)The largest whirlpool on the Western Hemisphere is called Old Sow. This maelstrom is situated between the shores of Deer Island and Moose Island in-between New Brunswick and Maine. Old Sow derives its name from the “pig-like”sucking sounds that occur when the whirling streams and vortex seethes. Considered one of the five most meaningful maelstroms in the world, this intensely violent whirlpool creates a mighty roaring when the tides back up against a strong wind. Old Sow maelstroms that form between the bays of Fundy and Passamaquoddy have a diameter of about 250 feet, swell up to 20 feet high, and reach speeds of 17.15 mph.
Small to medium whirlpools on every side of Old Sow are called “piglets.” Dreadful and deafening disturbances aside, only smaller sailboats and other boats with keels are considered in danger to steer Old Sow while the tide is running. Most motorized boats are able to successfully navigate these waters. Other rare natural occurrences around Old Sow involve upwellings, standing waves, and non-vortexing depressions in the water.
(image via:Flickr)The strait separating Naruto and Awaji is less than one mile wide. Naruto strait in located within a very narrow channel near Hyōgo, Japan where tides and water levels constantly fluctuate and throw strong tides into a vortex. The water speeds at over 8 mph through the Naruto channel four different times a day, twice flowing in and twice flowing out. The tidal currents twist like an underwater cyclone, swirling at a velocity of over 20 mph, making Naruto maelstroms the fourth fastest in the world. During the spring and autumn tides, the whirlpools have a diameter of over 65 feet. Tourists as well as locals watch the ebb and flow of giant whirlpools from ships or from above on the Naruto Bridge.
Garofalo – Strait of Messina Whirlpool
Niagara Falls Whirlpool
Like most whirlpools, tourists are drawn to see the swirling natural forces in action. The oldest attraction at Niagara Falls is the Maid of the Mist boat cruise that sails passengers into the whirlpools beneath the Falls. The Rainbow Bridge, located downriver from the Falls, connects Niagara Falls, New York, and Ontario, Canada. It also allows great views of the whirlpools. The Whirlpool Aero Car is a cable car ride that “flies” passengers over the whirlpool on the Canadian side.