15 Sailors Share the Strangest Things They’ve Seen at Sea

I feel like this is kind of a loaded question, because non-sailors are probably hoping for stories about mermaids or giant octopi or something of the sort...just me?

If you’re curious what’s really out there on the surface of Earth’s last great frontier, these 16 experienced sailors have some stories to pass along.

15. How rude!

Left my sailboat anchored off the coast of Saturna island. Go visit friends, spend the night on land. Next day, on my way back, as I’m rowing and getting closer to my boat, I can swear there is a sound coming from my boat. Some sort of small commotion is happening.

As I go up my ladder, in ninja mode, I’m trying to figure out wtf…I see 2 otters, laying in a bed of fish carcasses , f*cking…on my deck. They haven’t noticed me yet and so I do the polite thing and cough a bit.

That was not the best idea as they freaked out when they saw me, starting panicking and insuring that the fish guts would get absolutely everywhere in my navigation tools and seats.

There was no real damage but I’ll never forget the sound of otters f*cking.

14. A little romance never hurt anyone.

The first time you see a large sea turtle is kinda strange they look like floating boulders.

But the sea for as strange as it is is an amazing place as well seeing a flying fish or looking in the water and seeing fish as far as you can see is incredible.

I saw this quote on one of these once: “The sea gives and takes in equal measure”

13. A great memory.

I wouldn’t say strange, more just amazing and pretty rare. I saw the green flash one morning while on watch somewhere in the Mediterranean sea. Sea was smooth as glass, sky was gorgeous.

I was on the bridge wing drinking my coffee and having a smoke just before sunrise and I happened to be looking at the right spot at the right time as the sun crested the horizon. The smallest brightest flash of green and then the sun started climbing.

12. Alien intelligence.

I worked on a cage-diving boat off South Africa. I saw plenty of incredible things, but one day we had a 5+ meter female white shark come up next to the boat. She was completely uninterested in the cage, the chum, or the bait lines, but just kept hanging around, checking us out.

The size of her was just incredible; every time she came back to the surface, my brain would refuse to process what I was seeing for a second. Like “What IS that? Jesus, it’s huge.” She was so calm and curious.

For me, it was the first time that I had a clear understanding that there’s some kind of intelligence going on in that brain, even if it’s completely alien.

11. When you love it, you love it.

Algae blooms. North Red Sea in 2003. Pitch black night (no moon or cloud cover), except for a billion points of starlight reflecting in the ocean’s obsidian. The sea was calm, no whitecaps or even any swells really. I was a Quartermaster in the US Navy and was standing the mid watch (0000-0400 and a Quartermaster or QM is a specialist in nautical navigation for those who aren’t well versed in the Navy).

So we’re transiting the Red Sea headed south toward the Bab-Al Mendeb straight, I’m on the bridge wing shooting stars, and all of a sudden the ocean starts exploding with bright green algae. Starts off in a ball the size of a basketball or volleyball, and very quickly blossomed out hundreds of feet on any direction. Our ship was 505’ (154m) long and these blooms were easily encompassing the ship.

Bright green circles of algae, glowing like you dropped a neon green highlighter under a black light. It happened towards the start of my watch and went on for at least two hours. All around us. Photo-plankton reacts to itself (maybe as a defense mechanism?) and it wasn’t just in our wake, or in our immediate vicinity. It was for a couple hundred yards in any direction. To this day it was easily the coolest and most surreal things I’ve seen on the ocean.

Other things include millions of dragonflies (Northern Arabian Gulf), a rescue at sea (Virginia coast known in the Navy as the VACAPES), giant manta rays breaching that I almost ran over in the Captian’s Gig (Cuba), huge sea turtles at the surface (various places), clearest water I’ve ever seen (like 100’ crystal clear vis, Souda Bay, Crete), and I’m sure a whole host of things I’ve forgotten. I miss the ocean.

10. So many stars.

I used to be in the Navy, and out in the middle of the ocean at night can be calming and odd at the same time.

One night, I recall the sea was incredibly flat and calm, even out 1,000 miles from shore. The sky was clear and you could see every star in the sky. The really neat, creepy, and vertigo inducing thing was the stars reflected in the water and it looked like I was standing inside of a sphere of stars.

It really was incredible but it actually made me a bit dizzy because of the rocking of the ship and the feeling of not really knowing which way was up.

9. Definitely bizarre.

On my first deployment, I was part of a team called SNOOPIE Team. Basically we were there to take pictures of vessels for intelligence purposes (i.e. hull number, flag being flown, engine stacks etc.), this is basically to make sure ships we are seeing aren’t spoofing and are using the correct names… it was a drug ops deployment so there are a lot of ships that did this. Anyway we are really only useful during the day because of lighting and we are using really nice cameras but its still REALLY dark out on the ocean.

I was sleeping in my rack one night and over our ship announcement system I hear “AWAY SNOOPIE TEAM AWAY, PORT SIDE”. I am kind of dazed because they really quite rarely make announcements during “normal” sleeping hours unless its emergency. Once I realize I rush to get ready, head to my space and grab the camera then run to the bridge ( it was a small navy ship so I was able to do all this in about a couple minutes).

When I get up there everyone that is on watch and isn’t steering the ship is on the bridge wing staring up into the sky (Including our CO which made this even more weird) and there is this glowing green thing in the sky darting around unlike anything I’d ever seen or heard of. I take some pictures, we all ooh and awww at it for a while and then its just gone.

CO told me to save them to the laptop we had just in case and then it just kinda never got brought up again. I couldn’t save them to a personal laptop or anything because you just cant do that, so I have no proof but every once and awhile I think about it how truly bizarre it was.

8. He had some cleaning to do.

A dolphin swimming with a sponge in his mouth.

The crew member I was with asked if I knew why the dolphin has a sponge in his mouth. I didn’t know, of course. He said because dolphins have no hands.

7. Who doesn’t love whales?

Mostly sea life. When I was 19, I worked on a small cruise ship in Alaska. I’ve been on the water in the Puget Sound, but Alaska is something else.

We just came out of Juneau and the sun was setting. 1st mate let me at the helm. I saw this dark shape and thought it was a log, but it was huge!! Ole Jim told me to quickly turn because it’s a lumbering whale! I didn’t know humpback whales just kinda chilled on the surface for a nap.

It was an amazing summer though. I saw the northern lights for the first time, discovered my love for whales (I’ve got an awesome humpback space whale tattoo that I love and reminds me of this forever), touched glaciers and went rafting down a river near Haines surrounded by hundreds of bald eagles. That summer was wild and I have so many more stories.

Nature, you beautiful.

6. Bigger than you think.

I was out sailing alone and a couple of huge ocean sunfish came up next to my boat.

They are so derpy, but the size of those things up close is pretty shocking.

5. That’s a story waiting to be written.

A unicorn pool toy it was really big in the middle of no where the only thing you could see was the toy and a island almost 20 mins away.

4. It’s a big place.

Many years ago before Blackfish and all the stuff that we probably should have already known about aquatic mammals in captivity, we moved to San Diego and eventually bought a membership to Sea World. We went and stood in front of one of the massive aquarium tanks, just watching fish, when we became aware of a very large shadow at the back of the tank moving toward us.

It got bigger and darker and I’m sure we were having one of those “What the heck is that? It’s getting bigger! Holy smoke how big IS that thing?” conversations and an attendant came over to tell us about the park’s ocean sunfish or “mola mola” fish.

Apparently our shock was pretty common and the attendant enjoyed seeing people’s reactions and teaching them about the fish. We just loved that guy (the fish, not the attendant) and went to see him every time we were at the park. After a few years we had kids and took them as well.

Bought a little sunfish magnet and have it to this day. We live on the other coast now and saw in the news a few years back that it died. It’s a kind of scary but strangely beautiful creature.

3. It’s “just” the devil.

I live in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago to be exact. One weekend we took our little family boat to go anchor in a bay called Scotland Bay. It was about 10 maybe 15 feet deep, where you can easily see the sea floor from the boat since the water was so clear and the sun was bright that day.

As we were getting ready to jump in the cool water, we saw this massive shadow slowly approaching the boat. It’s width mirrored the length of our boat which was about 16-17 feet.

Needless to say at my young age at the time, I was terrified. Everybody in the boat was getting excited as this lumbering shadow got closer and closer. My dad quickly put on his goggles and snorkel and jumped in the water, not paying attention to my strict demands to remain put.

He dove under as we can still see him clearly, and then to my terror he was being taken along with this shadow, but there was no frantic movements. Dad was still looking calm as ever, and the creature was still moving along it’s current course with no changes in behavior.

Dad popped up for air maybe a few meters away from the boat with a huge smile on his face and yelled “It’s just a Devil fish!”

He had gently put one hand on one of it’s wings and went for a short joyride.

2. So they’re not all bright.

I’ve always sailed around Europe, so the first time I came into waters where flying fish are a thing was a trip. I thought I’d seen flying fish before but it turns out those were just jumping fish. Flying fish really do skim over the water really long distances! They’re magical.

And overnight some of the dumba**es end up on your deck and then die there. That’s kinda sad.

1. Once in a lifetime.

Was out boating one day and a harbor seal flops up onto my boat (which was moving at the time, albeit not particularly fast) and displays absolutely no interest in getting off.

At first I thought he just didn’t want to jump off a moving boat, so I slowed right down, but he still stayed put. Then I thought he was disoriented or something and I got down towards the stern to shoo him away.

It was then that I noticed that I was being tailed by a pod of orcas, which was presumably the reason why my new guest had made himself at home on my boat. They encircled the boat and stayed there for ~30 minutes, which was both amazing (closest I’d ever been to an orca by far, never mind a whole pod of them) and somewhat terrifying (the boat I was on was a 20 footer, so reasonably sized, but not so large that I liked my chances of not capsizing if the orcas decided they *really* wanted their dinner).

They eventually lost interest and moved on; the seal hopped off and swam away in the other direction a few minutes later.

I’m completely fascinated by these tales, I have to say.

If you’re a sailor, or have seen something odd at sea, please tell us about it in the comments!