Whirlpools are ominous vortices with the power to suck nearby objects into a watery spiral. Take a look beneath the surface.

whirlpools: facts, formation and survival tips
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fast-flowing currents in oceans and rivers constantly change direction. Whirlpools are phenomena that form when water moving in two different directions comes into contact with each other and interact in an unusual way. They can’t continue to travel at the same speed and direction through each other, so they are forced to turn and swirl around each other. 

Depending on the volume of water and force of colliding waters, whirlpools can appear in different sizes. Some whirlpools form and disappear over a short period of time, while some water systems keep whirlpools for centuries, according to the Niagra Parks website. The larger and more dangerous whirlpools are called maelstroms. These hold the power to fatally engulf anyone who comes too close.

Whirlpool formation

How to survive a whirlpool

Whirlpools aren’t as destructive as they are portrayed in fiction, such as the whirlpool battle in Pirates of the Caribbean. However, they do pose danger to people and small boats, according to the book. Most people won’t experience the entrapment of a whirlpool’s force but for many, such as kayakers, it is useful to know how to survive one. 

According to World Champion kayaker, Ken Whiting, you need to make sure to wear protective gear when entering the water, such as a life vest and helmet. These can protect you from the harsh currents surrounding whirlpools. If you see any signs of whirlpools, it is best not to enter the water at all. 

In the event of entering a whirlpool, you shouldn’t move in the same direction as the water flow and should aim for the outer edge rather than the center. When in a boat or kayak, try to prevent the boat from filling with water. In some instances, the whirlpool can throw you back out, according to Smithsonian Magazine. 

whirlpools: facts, formation and survival tips

The power of whirlpools can be difficult to predict by their appearance. (Image credit: Getty Images)

World-famous whirlpools

Saltstraumen

In Norway, south of the city of Bodø, a small strait has one of the strongest tidal currents in the world, according to World Atlas. Where Skjerstad fjord and Salten fjord link together, water can travel at 10 meters per second to create this giant whirlpool up to 32.8 feet (10 meters) wide and 16.4 feet (5 meters) deep. 

Old Sow

Formed in the waters between Deer Island and Moose Island in Canada, Old Sow is one of the largest whirlpools in the western hemisphere. It can vary in size, within a diameter of around 250 feet (76 meters). Usually, several smaller whirlpools surround it. 

Naruto

Between Tokushima and Hyogo in Japan, the tidal whirlpool Naruto can form up to 66 feet (20 meters) in diameter. Water enters the narrow Naruto strait at speeds of 12 mph during spring tides. 

Corryvreckan

Located between two rocks off the west coast of Scotland, this whirlpool is produced by the uneven sea bed. Deep pits and basalt pinnacles increase the speed of the water that flows through. It is considered to be the third largest whirlpool in the world. 

Moskstraumen

In the Norwegian Sea, between Mosken island and the southern part of the island of Moskenesøya, is the second strongest whirlpool in the world. At its largest, it is about 160 feet (49 meters) in diameter.

Additional resources

You can read more about the Naruto whirlpools of Japan at the Japan Guide website. Additionally, to find out about the giant Lofoten maelstrom, visit Nature.com.

Bibliography

“Niagra Falls Geology: Facts and figures”. Niagra Parks (2022). Whiting, K. “Whitewater Kayaking: The Ultimate Guide”. (Heliconia Press, 2008). “Managing Whirlpools” Paddling.com (2022).”Close Encounters With the Old Sow” Smithsonian Magazine.”The World’s Largest Whirlpools”. World Atlas (2018).

TECH NEWS RELATED

How we test, review and rate products on Space.com

Testing you can trust, 100% independent and authoritative.

View more: How we test, review and rate products on Space.com

Once-promising Tesla rival Faraday Future only has 401 pre-orders for its debut EV

Faraday Future, an electric vehicle startup once considered a potential rival to Tesla, has revealed that it only has 401 paid preorders for its debut vehicle, the FF 91 all-electric SUV. The preorder numbers were listed in a financial report from the company. According to Faraday Future’s Q1 2022 ...

View more: Once-promising Tesla rival Faraday Future only has 401 pre-orders for its debut EV

Can science explain the beginning of the Universe?

The origin of the Universe — the beginning of everything — is one question where scientific and religious narratives sometimes get blurred. This is not because they approach the problem in the same way; clearly they do not. It is because the question being asked of both is the ...

View more: Can science explain the beginning of the Universe?

A rare “black widow” binary has the shortest orbit yet

The flashing of a nearby star has drawn MIT astronomers to a new and mysterious system 3,000 light years from Earth, reports MIT News. The stellar oddity appears to be a new “black widow binary” — a rapidly spinning neutron star, or pulsar, that is circling and slowly consuming ...

View more: A rare “black widow” binary has the shortest orbit yet

Greenhouse gas monitoring from space to get a boost with SpaceX launch

GHGSat detects methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

View more: Greenhouse gas monitoring from space to get a boost with SpaceX launch

Tesla invited to build battery facility in Indonesia’s giant 30k-hectare industrial area

Tesla’s potential battery facility in Indonesia will likely be built on one of the country’s most ambitious integrated industrial areas to date, according to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. According to the Minister, an industrial area in Indonesia’s North Kalimantan (Kaltara) province, which would ...

View more: Tesla invited to build battery facility in Indonesia’s giant 30k-hectare industrial area

The Netherlands is not on course to achieve the SDGs

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain The Netherlands is not on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030. In fact, at this pace, no single country will achieve this. That is one of the conclusions from the sixth national SDG report and the CBS Monitor, which were published ...

View more: The Netherlands is not on course to achieve the SDGs

Update on the Potential May 31st tau Herculid Meteor Storm

If skies are clear, be sure to watch for a potential tau Herculid meteor outburst early next Tuesday morning. With a little cosmic luck, we could potentially be in for a meteor storm of epic proportions this coming Monday night/Tuesday morning. We recently wrote about the possibility for an ...

View more: Update on the Potential May 31st tau Herculid Meteor Storm

Space agencies from BRICS countries begin satellite and data sharing

Chatter: The dark side of your inner voice

Ethan Kross

[LOOK] NASA Hubble Telescope Captures Galaxy Twice as Big as Milky Way; Here's What Makes NGC 474 Unusual

HP Reverb G2 review

Potential new meteor shower is 'all or nothing event,' says NASA astronomer

Elon Musk’s net worth falls below $200 billion amid TSLA’s recent slump

Tesla (TSLA) stock way oversold, Twitter overhang way overdone: Wedbush analyst

A vicious cycle of oxygen loss threatens water quality in lakes

Tesla drivers are almost 50% less likely to crash while driving a Tesla than when driving other cars: study

Blood test can calculate your true biological age

Hit peak performance with the power of habit

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News