Space may be “the final frontier”, but there are still plenty of frontiers unexplored here on Earth. Apart from a few incredibly dense rain forests, a few perilous mountaintops, and a few of the more punishing parts of the Antarctic tundra, the vast majority of the unexplored quarters of the Earth lie underwater. It has only been incredibly recently in human history that we have developed the technology –SCUBA and submersibles– that have allowed us to visit some of these mysterious and unknown parts of the planet. And what have we found? A lot of cool stuff. And a lot of weird stuff.
There are shipwrecks, long lost artifacts, and entire sunken cities underwater. And that’s just the stuff that we humans chucked down there. The ocean is also home to some of the most bizarre creatures, some of the most alien-looking ecosystems, and some of the most intriguing and revealing fossils you could possibly imagine. This article will focus on what human divers have actually seen with their own eyes. So while giant squid and angler fish are really cool (and terrifying) this list will entail things that you yourself (with the right equipment and the right amount of training) could see with our very own eyes if you’re lucky enough. But until you get those diving classes and all that scuba gear, you’ll have to make do with this list. So sit back, relax, and read all about the 15 most shocking things divers have seen with their own eyes.
15. The “Lion City”
OK, this technically isn’t in “the deep sea”. But it was just too cool to leave off of this list. Of all the lost “sunken” cities in the world, the “Lion City” is the most spectacular. That’s mostly because it’s only been underwater for 58 years at this point. Shi Cheng –known as “the Lion City”– was once a center of politics and trade in the eastern province of Zhejiang in China. However, in 1959, China’s growth and attempts at modernization were so great that the government decided a hydroelectric dam was required in the area. In order to make one, they needed to make a man-made lake, and in doing so, flooded the ancient city, which now sits under 130 feet of water. Amazingly, the city lay submerged and forgotten for 53 years until divers rediscovered it. Honorable mention goes to the lost city of vice, Port Royal. An infamous city of sin and piracy in Jamaica that sunk after a series of earthquakes.
14. The Doty
The Doty was one of the last big steamships on the Great Lakes. It glided upon the lakes imperiously, the last of dying a breed, before it too met its end. It sank in 1898 during a terrible storm in Lake Michigan near Milwaukee; a powerful storm that felled several ships. Although its sinking was known at the time and documented, divers had never been able to locate it until it was eventually discovered on June 16, 2010. It was the largest wooden vessel still missing in Lake Michigan until that time. The Doty lies beneath more than 300 feet of water, but it still sits upright, and the coldness of the fresh water in Lake Michigan has helped to keep it remarkably well preserved.
13. The Fossils of Puijila Darwini
Canadian paleobiologist Natalia Rybczynski and her team of divers discovered a set of fossils in 2007. These fossils would later be identified as Puijila Darwini. This was not an easy dig, largely because of where they found the fossils: Devon Island, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, in the bone-chilling waters of the Canadian Arctic. The discovery and identification of Puijila Darwini is important for several reasons. First, Puijila is a transitional fossil: it was one of the first creatures that branched away from the ancestors of modern bears and weasels into what would become the pinnipeds: seals, sea lions, and walruses. Puijila’s location also suggests that the evolution of pinnipeds began in the arctic. Lastly, the discovery itself lends further credence the relative nascent practice of marine paleontology.
12. The Baltic Sea Anomaly
“The Baltic Sea Anomaly” was discovered in June 2011 by the Swedish “Ocean X” diving team. It consists of a circular rock formation that looks like a pearl necklace and it sits atop a pillar of some kind. Interestingly, inside the circle of rocks is what looks like a staircase going down into a dark hole. Suggestions of what it could be include: a World War II anti-submarine device, a gun turret from a battleship, or, and here’s the kicker, a flying saucer. Some geologists have suggested that it is probably just a natural rock formation. The Ocean X team have been accused of somewhat sensationalizing what they’ve found. Whatever it is. But let’s just call out the elephant in the room: it looks suspiciously like the Millennium Falcon. There is no word yet on how many parsecs it takes the Anomaly to complete the Kessel Run.
11. The RMS Rhone
The RMS Rhone sank in 1867, near the British Virgin Islands, off the coast of Salt Island, to be exact. It sank in October 1867 during the San Narciso Hurricane. The fierce winds hit when the Rhone was trapped in the harbor of Salt Island. The captain tried to escape through the channel during the eye of the storm, but the Rhone got caught, and was dashed against the rocks, bifurcating the vessel. The cold water caused the boilers on-board to explode. Most grisly of all was how most of how the crew members met their end. Common practice at the time was to strap people into their beds during choppy waters, to keep them safe from falling down. As a result however, most of those aboard were trapped, tied to their beds as the ship sank. Only 23 crew members survived.
10. Japanese Puffer Fish Nests
When diver Yuji Ookata first discovered what would later be identified as the “nests” of the Japanese Puffer Fish, he was baffled. He described them as“underwater crop circles”. As alien as they look, these underwater crop circles, like the ones on land, have nothing to do with extraterrestrials. The Japanese puffer fish is less than five inches long yet this little guy is the artist behind these wonderful and ornate nests of sand. The nests are about six-and-a-half feet wide, and I say, “guy”, because it’s the male puffer fish who makes them. If a female is sufficiently impressed, she will lay her eggs in the nest and then the male will fertilize and look after them until they hatch, about six days later. The male then goes off and makes another nest and the cycle continues just like Tinder on a Saturday night.
9. Giant Lemur Fossils
When diver Phillip Lehman was called in to survey some potential fossil remains in flooded caves in Madagascar, his hopes weren’t much beyond finding some good surfing spots. What he found instead was much more interesting. Imagine a bizarre world; a world like ours, but slightly off. A world full of horned crocodiles, pygmy hippopotamuses, and eggs laying that are 180 times the size of the chicken eggs at the grocery store. And the kicker: lemurs the size of gorillas. No, this isn’t some alternate world in the multiverse, but rather the African island of Madagascar on our own planet; just 5000 years ago. The earliest human settlers of the island would have seen some of these magnificent creatures (and killed them). But for Lehman and Australian diver Ryan Dart, finding these fossils would have to do. They give us a much better picture of the weird creatures that have evolved on this island.
8. The Yonaguni Monument
Discovered in 1987 off the southern coast of Japan by Kihachiro Aratake who was looking for sharks, the Yonaguni Monument is either a cool natural formation of sandstones and mudstones or it’s… something else. First thoroughly examined by Masaaki Kimura of the University of the Ryukyus, the Yonaguni Monument is noteworthy either way. At the very least it’s an odd naturally occurring rock formation, but Kimura has another theory. He believes that the Monument is just that – a monument. Man-made stepped monoliths, to be exact. While many others have yet to be won over by Kimura’s theory, there is no official classification or designation of the Monument. If it is indeed man-made or even just man-modified, this raises many further questions. Who made it? Why? And how? More research is needed.
7. The “Best” Shipwreck
Known among divers as being perhaps the shipwreck in the best condition, the Umbria sank in 1940. Originally built as a passenger ship, it was purchased by the Italian government in 1935 and refitted to ferry troops and supplies over to Italy’s colonies in East Africa. As World War II loomed imminently, the ship was forced to anchor north of Port Sudan and was examined by British and New Zealand naval officers. But because Italy had yet to formally declare war, there was nothing the British could do about the massive amounts of explosives, ammunition, and supplies on board. Hearing that Italy had or was about to declare war, the Italian captain was desperate not to let the ship’s cargo fall into British hands, so he purposely sank his own ship. While the vessel was salvageable, the British decided not to, due to the dangerous explosives aboard. Shortly after the war, the ship was located by divers and it is still a popular destination to this day because of the ship’s good condition under about 38 meters of water.
6. The Vasa
The Vasa was a great, magnificent 17th century Swedish military ship that was thought to be nearly invincible, yet it sank on its maiden voyage (sound familiar?!). Yet there was no iceberg nor Kate Winslet involved here. At the time, Sweden was a growing political and dominant military state in Europe. To signal their power and to honor the King who led them to prominence, Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish navy commissioned the Vasa, an immense and exquisite ship. Built between 1626 and 1628, no expense was spared; yet the mighty ship proved… well, not so mighty, and sank not even a nautical mile from the harbor. Even so, it took centuries before anybody could find it. It was not until the 1950s that divers working for the Swedish government finally found the Vasa. Sweden decided to salvage the wreck and managed to do so over the course of 18 months. The Vasa remained in remarkably good condition and it is now one of the top tourist attractions in Stockholm.
5. Bimini Road
Bimini Road is another example of the man-made monument vs. natural formation debate. On September 2, 1968, J. Manson Valentine, Jacques Mayol, and Robert Angove were diving off the northwest coast of North Bimini Island in the Bahamas when they discovered a linear series of roughly rectangular limestone rocks leading in a northwest-southeast direction for about a kilometer. This formation would become known as “Bimini Road” or the “Bimini Wall”. Radiocarbon dating performed in 1978 adjudged the rocks to be about 3,500 years old, but this claim is disputed by some. Most of those who dispute that age are proponents of the “man made theory”; which is to say, they think that Bimini Road was built by humans. While that theory is pretty exciting: Was it part of the mythical Atlantis? Did Ancient Romans or Carthaginians somehow get to the Caribbean? The truth is likely that Bimini Road is just a cool natural rock formation.
4. The “Russian Wreck”
While the Vasa is more impressive physically, the “Russian Wreck” might just be the most intriguing. While we don’t know the whole story here, many believe that this ship, which sunk off the coast of Egypt, was actually an undercover spy ship for the Soviet Union. In the South Egyptian Red Sea off the coast of Zargabad Island, lies this ship which was discovered in 1988 under 24 meters (eighty feet) of water. Believed by some to be the Khanka, a fishing trawler that sank in the area, the presence of a communications mast, more than two hundred batteries, and directional-finding antennae, suggest this was more than a trawler. The Soviets were known to disguise their surveillance ships as trawlers, so there’s a good chance this was a spy ship of some sort. But just what it was doing in the Egyptian Red Sea remains a mystery.
3. Cenote Angelita
The Cenote Angelita is a river. It has rapids, waterfalls, and has lovely trees growing around it. Oh, and it’s also at the bottom of the sea. Wait, what? The Cenote Angelita is an underwater cave in Mexico that has within it a river and trees. How does a river run under water? Well, the river water is much denser than the surrounding water because it has a higher salinity, so it sinks down to the lowest point and often carves out rivers on its way to a salty basin on the seabed. It’s not the only one either. There is an underwater river in the Black Sea that, if it were on land, would be the sixth largest river in the world. And there might be an even larger undersea river in the Amazon Basin. But the Cenote Angelita is the only one with trees and that has been directly observed by divers.
2. The Ghost Ship
The only ship to rival the Russian Wreck in terms of mystery is the wonderfully named “Ghost Ship”. Like the Vasa, the Ghost Ship was built in the 17th century and it lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. But unlike the Vasa which has a rich and detailed history, we know almost nothing else about the Ghost Ship. It was discovered in 2010, accidentally, by a Swedish group of divers who were searching for a plane that had been shot down in World War II. What they found instead baffled them. The ship is in the style of Dutch ships from that era, so it might be Dutch. But what it was doing in the Baltic Sea and how it sank are unknown. The Baltic Sea has low levels of tidal activity and salinity, so many of the wrecks there are well preserved. The Ghost Ship remains as a mysterious haunting reminder of a bygone era.
1. The Sunken City of Heracleion
Discovered in 2000 by Franck Goddio, Heracleion, also known as Thonis, is on the Mediterranean shore of Egypt, just north of Alexandria. The city was thought to be merely a myth until its discovery. Believed to have been built in the 8th century BCE, Heracleion sank about 1200 years ago. What caused it to sink is unknown. Possibly rising sea levels coupled with unstable sediments underneath the city. Divers have found truly splendiferous artifacts in the city buried under 150 feet of water. Over 64 ships, gold coins, bronze scales, and 16-foot high stone statues are just some of the treasures that have been recovered. Heracleion is know thought to have been a major hub for trade and commerce and its discovery has shed a lot of light on the economics of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. While other underwater cities are in better condition, such as the Lion City, and others might be older, such as Dwarka in India, its combination of treasures and historical importance makes the discovery of Heracleion truly momentous.