HMS Friday – The Pseudoscience Bullshit Behind the Bermuda Triangle

by Mark Lukach

In honor of Bermuda Week here at Scuttlefish, it’s time to tackle the mother of all ocean oddities: the Bermuda Triangle. Christopher Columbus claims to have seen UFOs when he was sailing through the Bermuda Triangle. 5 US Navy bomber planes disappeared in the Triangle during World War II, known as Flight 19. Spielberg made a movie out of it. Raymond Schuessler, a master chronicler of the ocean, puts the number of lost ships at over 100 and lost sailors at 1,000…and that only covers a 30 year period after World War II.

The big, big, big, big, big question to explore is obvious: what the hell is going on in the Bermuda Triangle?

First, geography.

The Bermuda Triangle’s coordinates are generally considered at Bermuda (duh), Miami, and Puerto Rico. But in truth, many authors who have tackled the topic are generous in what they’re willing to call the Triangle. Some of their maps don’t even end up looking like triangles. So it’s like the Bermuda Polygon, which doesn’t have the same ring as the Triangle.

There’s no consensus as to the geographic borders of the Bermuda Triangle. Great. That’s some nice foreshadowing for just how jumbled the different theories for the Triangle can get.

Next, a history of the paranoia.

The first convincing article that really hyped the bizarre nature of the Bermuda Triangle appeared in Fate magazine in 1952, and was written by a guy who wasn’t willing to use his real name. (He called himself George X.) He heavily referenced Flight 19’s disappearance, and was the first guy to actually map out the triangle.

While a few other articles popped up in the 1950s and 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that writers and researchers really worked themselves up into a frenzy. The vast majority of these authors wholeheartedly and unabashedly pursued paranormal theories, and the more they dug, the more strange stories they uncovered. Or so they thought.

Captain Buzzkill, also known as Larry Kusche, arrived on the scene in 1975 and methodically closed the door on all such speculation. His book, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved, carefully examined every sensational disappearance, and using his research, Kusche essentially rejected all preceding claims regarding the Triangle. First off, he looked to newspapers from the time surrounding each disappearance, and often found that the boats that were believed to have disappeared, actually showed up at a later time at a distant port. The sensationalist writers hadn’t gone the extra step to see if the disappearances might just be a long case of getting lost. Also, he finds drastic exaggeration in eyewitness reports.

His basic conclusion, while a disappointment to those of us who love a good unsolved mystery, is that the Bermuda Triangle is actually no more dangerous than any other area in the ocean. Boats sink everywhere, and the amount of traffic in the Triangle is looked at in proportion to how often boats disappear, he concluded that boats sink at a pretty normal rate in the Triangle.

Since Kusche’s book came out, major institutions like the US Coast Guard, the Navy, and NOAA have backed his conclusions. There is no mystery. It was all a big hype.

But still. Let’s look at some of those wacky theories, just because they’re kind of awesome, and there are plenty of people who still subscribe to them.

UFOs and Aliens

This is by far my favorite theory. Hands-down. The most bizarre. There’s two approaches to this one, but they both rely upon the idea that there are aliens out there.

-The first UFO theory believes that a UFO crashed into the Bermuda triangle, and has set up an underwater base. When ships pass through, they often get sucked under water by the aliens, who want to conduct all sorts of tests. Think probes.
-The other one is that there is a space-time gap located in the Bermuda Triangle that is a result of UFO activity and communication with earth. This one lends itself a bit more to the idea behind the island in LOST. If a boat passes through at the wrong time, it actually passes through that space-time continuum, and gets sent who the hell knows where, or when. Awesome.

Atlantis

Talk about another huge can of worms to open here, but many theorists believe that the lost continent of Atlantis is actually buried in the Bermuda Triangle. According to the myths surrounding Atlantis, the inhabitants derived their energy from crystals. Yes, you read that right, crystals. Not sure how sustainable magical crystals are as an energy source, but whatever. So anyway, if Atlantis sunk into the Caribbean, that means those crazy crystals are down there too. A few scuba divers who conveniently forgot their cameras claim to have found architectural remains that look human-designed on the seafloor in the Triangle, which gives backing to their idea that Atlantis sunk here. Others believe that a series of submerged rocks located of Bimini Island (near Florida) are an ancient port from Atlantis. But either way, the fact that Atlantis is under the ocean means that there’s magic crystals there too, and that those crystals are pulling people and boats into the ocean.

Compasses Gone Wild

One of the most oft-cited occurrences in the Bermuda Triangle is that compass needles start to spin like crazy, which would imply some bizarre magnetic qualities somewhere underwater. Up until a few decades ago, the Bermuda Triangle was also claimed to be one of the few places where compasses actually point to true north, rather than magnetic north. (That has since been explained away by science.) But the bizarre behavior of compasses has actually turned out to be a fairly infrequent phenomena after all, one of the many exaggerations that Kusche came across.

Methane

This one is actually kind of scientific, but still a stretch. Located in various locations under the earth’s surface are massive deposits of methane gas. When they are under water, seismic activity causes the methane to bubble up to the surface, which changes the density of the water. So if there was enough activity underwater to release a whole bunch of methane, then bubbles could rise to the surface suddenly, and drastically change the water’s density…enough to sink a ship without warning. This actually is feasible. So it’s kind of a realistic theory. The only drawback is that while the Bermuda Triangle does have undersea methane, its concentration is not particularly high, like in other parts of the world….places that are not associated with disappearances.

Weather

The Bermuda Triangle is in the heart of hurricane country. The unpredictability of hurricanes, and their ferocious power, makes sea  travel in the region dangerous. So it’s not illogical to think that weather could cause so much damage. As to why ships would disappear without a trace? Not sure that’s quite explained by weather.

People Can Be Dumb

Probably the most pervasive, scientific explanation for why ships disappear in this area is that people can make stupid mistakes, whether they be with instruments judgment calls. Misreading charts. Thinking you can out-race a storm. This theory is actually the most supported one out there. That the Bermuda Triangle is a place where people make dumb, fatal mistakes.

In conclusion, it seems like the most reasonable view on the Bermuda Triangle is that it’s nothing too exceptional. And yet, the chatter about the bizarre nature of the region continues.

*Sources Discovery Science, bermuda-attractions, world-mysteries, trueghosttales, wikipedia

*Images amazingnotes, crystalinks, theresilientearth, unexplainedstuff, wikimedia

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