The Strange
Giant Whirlpools or The Maelstrom The Strange

Whirlpool location
Ever since I heard the account from a man I knew regarding his encounter with a giant whirlpool in the Columbia River here in Oregon, I've been fascinated with this water phenomena.

I asked another man who grew up on the Mississippi if he had ever heard or seen of such a thing.  He told me that his brother was killed when he was pulled down by a whirlpool in the Mississippi River when he was young.

Then I wondered about the real thing, as it were, a giant whirlpool in the ocean.  Now that would be something.  So I embarked on what turned out to be a long and difficult quest for knowledge regarding giant whirlpools at sea.  It seems that in literature, there are at least three mentions of this giant swirling mass.  Edgar Allen Poe described it in one of his tales, So did Jules Verne in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  Also the ancient greek tale known as The Oddessy has the hero of the story warned about this monster of a current which was, in the story, located off the coast of Italy.

But enough about fiction.  I wanted to know if there really were giant whirlpools in the ocean.  So I began searching books and databases.  I got ahold of every kind of scientist that I could think of to ask them if they had ever heard of an actual giant whirlpool in the ocean.  None of them had ever heard of one, so discouraged, I gave up my search.

It was at this time that I stumbled onto another person who had been searching for giant whirlpools for some time.  It seems that the only giant whirlpool in the ocean, although no scientist has ever seen it, is off the coast of Lofoten Island, Norway.  They call this whirlpool The Maelstrom.  It has been the subject of Norse myths for hundreds of years.  It had been reported by the vikings and other explorers.  It has also been reported by the local fishermen for hundreds of years.  But the most recent mission to actually see the Maelstrom is being conducted by a Norwegian scientist working for the European Sat Lab.  He uses magnetic resonance images taken by satellites high in orbit above the earth to search for the giant whirlpool.

At this point it I should try to explain in simple terms how the whirlpool would form.  Around Lofoten Island there flows a super powerful current which is quite strange in its own right because the current moves at unbelievable speeds.  Although no scientists have taken measurements this high, fishermen have reported currents in excess of forty miles per hour which is faster than the fastest river.  This current is known as the Moskenes current, which is named after the Moskenes Sound.  Now, when this current meets up with the rushing tide from around the other side of Lofoten Island, giant eddies and some say, whirlpools are formed out beyond the southern tip of The island.  If there is indeed a giant whirlpool somewhere out in the ocean, this is where you would find it.

Although we have no actual modern day scientifically backed reports of of the giant whirlpool or The Maelstrom, scientists at the European Sat Lab believe that when the moon is full and the wind is high and the conditions are just right, we may  in fact get the first documentation of this giant watery monster.

Since the knowledge of giant whirlpools is so limited and research regarding giant whirlpools or maelstroms is so difficult, I have decided to include letters sent to The Strange regarding them.
If you have any information regarding giant whirlpools, please send and email to

See also: The Most Giant Whirlpool in the World!


This was sent in by Pat from the lone star state:

Wife and I just got back from Scandinavian trip.  Took coastal steamer from
Bergen to Bodo, Norway (Bodo is about 50 miles east of the tip of the
Lofoten Islands).  Bodo tourist info advertises the local Saltstraumen
(sp?) Maelstrom as nearby.  We took local bus about 30 minutes south of
town to Saltstraumen Fjord.  There, a narrow fjord (maybe 100 yards
across), at peak tidal flow, in or out, of 20 knots (!) produces a
continuous series of large whirlpools on either side of the fjord.  Most
are probably 20-40 feet across and maybe 4-5 feet deep.  As they drift
"downstream" they gradually dissipate.  Are mostly gone in 100-150 yards.

As a kid, my family took trip up to Nova Scotia.
We took a ferry near the "Old Sow" announced as the world's second largest
whirlpool.  Didn't get close enough to see much, but did see lots of debris
and foam going round and round.

Below is a short 2 part letter from Rob:

Part 1:

You probably already know this but, the Largest Whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere is located just off the coast of Maine near Cobscook bay and Fundy bay.

Part 2:

Anyway, The Whirlpool I spoke of near Cobscook bay / Fundy Bay is just off the Eastern coast of Maine. This area boasts the most dramatic tide levels in the world. The tides have a 28 foot tidal change. Actually I think slightly North  in the Fundy Bay is where it is truly in the 28 ft range. I
imagine that if you research other areas in the worlds oceans that have drastic tidal changes you will find whirlpools as well. I am sure that rock / ocean floor formations and the amount of water that surges past them in a tidal change of such magnitude is the culprit for WHIRLPOOLS.

Rob sent a third email stating that he had found a thesis on the web that claimed the tide in that area had a range of not 28 feet, but an astonishing 44.6 feet! Click here ( UPDATE: Dead and archived ) if you would like to read that thesis.

Another letter that was sent in was both short and sweet.  Here is the contents of that letter:

Corryvreckan Whirlpool off the island of Jura, Scotland.

So I did some research on this Whirlpool and was amazed to find this quote:

The road, such as it is, stops here, but if you continue along the track (unsuitable for
motorized vehicles), eventually it reaches the northern tip of Jura, where George Orwell
wrote 1984 and almost lost his life in the Corryvreckan whirlpool.

Further, I found another quote regarding this specific whirlpool:

"The Whirlpool - officially classed as Unnavigable by the Royal Navy. - can be seen after a two mile walk from Kinuachdrach. Its condition varies depending on the state of the tide and the wind."

And this quote from a Scottish writer:

"Plans to create a conservation area around Corryvreckan, Europe's largest whirlpool, between the islands of Jura and Scarba in the Inner Hebrides, has stirred up a swell of protest from local fishermen. Lobster, scallop and prawn fishing is the main industry in Scarba which has a population of only 200.  The fishermen are not only concerned about possible restrictions on fishing but about any growth in "eco-tourism".  The currents and rock formations in the area create a permanent whirlpool which has been immortalized in song."

This whirlpool exists in a small gulf known as the "Gulf of Corryvreckan" which is right on the very northern tip of the Isle of Jura.

Unfortunately I was unable to find further information on this Whirlpool, but I am sure that the famous author wrote an account of his terrifying experience that must exist somewhere.

Doug Higley, webmaster of The Mystery Sea writes:

Don't forget the GIANT Whirpool just downstream from Niagra Falls.  .Whirlpool Rapids even has a cable car that soars over it and scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

I was there when I was a kid also.  That really was scary.  I forgot about that one.  I was only 5 at the time, no wonder I'm so interested in whirlpools.
(John McMahon, webmaster of The Strange.)

I, too am interested in whirlpools.

In the British movie, "I Know Where I'm Going"   1945, there is a
spectacular scene of a whirlpool off the coast of Scotland.  I don't know
how it was filmed, but it is most probably the Corryvreckan whirlpool.  Do
you know of any pictures that exist of the Maelstrom?


Another reference, Aristotle threw himself into a whirlpool because he could
not understand it.

David Dennard
"The Hardest Working Man In Dreamland" ( UPDATE: This website is dead and archived )

Another letter...

I used to work in Scotland as a marine biologist and I have seen the
gulf of Corryvreckan myself.  Sadly there was no whirlpool when I saw it but
I managed to track down a photo of it. The picture was taken from Scarba and
showed the whirlpool very well. It looked quite deep and the water in the
gulf was very rough. Sadly, I no longer have the photo, it was in a book
called "The Islands of Western Scotland". I will try and track it down for

I have read that the flood tide produces a 4 metre standing wave in
the gulf, as high as 8 metres during a storm.  It must be quite a sight.

Another letter...

This occurs due to two tidal systems meeting at a narrow gulf between the
islands of Scarba and Jura there is evidently an underwater pinnacle which
causes the sea to swirl. The whirpool runs best at spring tides. As you say
in your text you can see it from Jura or the best view is from the cliffs
at the southern end of Scarba. This area of the sea surrounding the islands
of Jura Scarba and Islay has treacherous currents and overfalls.

OLD SOW....From Pat.

Forgot to mention that, as a kid, my family took trip up to Nova Scotia.
We took a ferry near the "Old Sow" announced as the world's second largest
whirlpool.  Didn't get close enough to see much, but did see lots of debris
and foam going round and round.


Maggie Wrote..

I recall seeing a photograph of a large whirlpool. I believe the book
was a World Book Encyclopedia "Year Book" some time back in the early
'70's or a National Geographic Magazine It looked more like a folded
mass of tides rather than the cone you see in your bathtub.


I am taking a class on the geography of Japan and have come across giant Kobe)
between the islands of Awaji and Shikoku. The strait itself varies 5ft between the north
and south shores and rocks jut out from the sea bottom to further instigate these giants
of the sea. The whirlpools achieve widths of up to 50ft, depths of up to 5.5ft, speeds of
20km/hr and wave heights of 30ft. The tide speed has been clocked at 8-10knots.
There is alot of data available on the net concerning these whirlpools (and many pics)
as they have become a popular tourist site. There is also a National Geographic Article
(Vol. 104 July-Dec 1953) that tells the story of an American couple who braved (?) the
whirlpools in a small wooden craft.  Also, upon further research I found another giant
whirlpool located in the Orkney Islands, Scotland called "Swelki". Legends here speak
of a giant magic salt mill below the sea. In reality, there are hydrothermal vents on the
floor that provide an escape for salt to rise into the sea. Yet more proof that there is
usually some truth in legends. One more interesting point about this particular whirlpool
is that Orkney Island actually means "Island of the Whirlpool".

Karen Morgan
Kamloops, B.C., Canada 

You asked for information about the Corryvreckan whirlpool off Scotland.
There is a 1945 film, "I Know Where I'm Going", which features this whirlpool
though I think the scenes were shot in a studio.
I know people who have crossed it by kayak and survived,
though they admitted that it was at slack tide.

You may also be interested to know that there is a tidal rapid off the coast
of Wales, known as "The Bitches". Not quite a whirlpool but still impressive.
Some details may be found at ( UPDATE; This page on TYF is dead and archived )  But  TYF is still going strong after 28 years!

The local aquatic feature is a roaring beast known as the Severn Bore.
There are a few video clips of it on the web.



Tom Writes:

Hi, my name is Tom and i e.m. reply to your query at your website.
This note is repeat of reply in case you failed to receive reply.
The giant ocean whirlpool off St. Malo, France is about 6 m. across.
I have the original page from Life Mag. 1969. I have read that some-
where in the Philippines there are whirlpools large enough
to take fairly large boats down.


This photo was taken in 1969 of a whirlpool off the coast of France.  How big do you think it is?  Are there any oceanographers  who would like to guess? Please send mail. 
It looks to me like it could be a hundred yards across.  It's so hard to tell.


Whirlpool of the coast of France 1969

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