The Bermuda Triangle and the Devil's Sea

Two regions of ocean are said to be mysteriously dangerous. What's the truth behind this popular belief?

Filed under History & Pseudohistory, Paranormal, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #337
November 20, 2012
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Today we're going to hit the high seas, and venture into a matched pair of alleged danger zones where ships and airplanes are said to disappear at an alarming rate. Some believe that the Bermuda Triangle and its twin, the Devil's Sea south of Japan, are merely regions where natural forces combine to form a genuine navigational hazard; while others believe that some unknown agent is responsible for sweeping the hapless travelers from the face of the Earth. Today we're going to dive into the waters to see how deep the mysteries really are. Let's begin with:

The Bermuda Triangle

It's perhaps the best known of all the world's regions said to be strangely treacherous. The triangle goes from Miami to Bermuda to Puerto Rico, and despite a huge amount of normal shipping traffic passing through it every day, stories persist that some force there lurks to pull ships and planes to a watery grave.

The most common appearance of the Bermuda Triangle today is on television documentaries and popular books that purport to take a "science-based" look at the phenomenon. They give the appearance of skepticism by dismissing the paranormal explanations like psychic energy, Atlantis, or alien abductions, and instead focus on natural phenomena that could be responsible for disappearances. These include rogue waves, undersea methane explosions, or strange geomagnetic fluctuations. They test these explanations with scale models and sophisticated simulations.

But in fact, this representation of being scientific is wrong. To investigate the Bermuda Triangle scientifically, we would start with an observation, and then test hypotheses to explain it. Popular programming today tends to skip the very first step: actually having an observation to explain.

One of the first things you learn when researching the Bermuda Triangle responsibly — which means including source material beyond the TV shockumentaries and pulp paperbacks that promote the mystery wholeheartedly — is that transportation losses inside the Bermuda Triangle do not occur at a rate higher than anywhere else, and the number of losses that are unexplained is also not any higher. Statistically speaking, there is no Bermuda Triangle. The books and TV shows are trying to explain an imaginary observation.

The United States Coast Guard, which is the primary safety authority in the area, has this to say:

The Coast Guard does not recognize the existence of the so-called Bermuda Triangle as a geographic area of specific hazard to ships or planes. In a review of many aircraft and vessel losses in the area over the years, there has been nothing discovered that would indicate that casualties were the result of anything other than physical causes. No extraordinary factors have ever been identified.

That's not to say that losses don't occur there. They do. They also occur everywhere else on Earth. Some are unexplained. A similar percentage of losses worldwide are also unexplained. Unexplained doesn't mean unexplainable; it simply means that insufficient evidence remained to allow to cause of the loss to be determined, which is, sadly, all too common with ships and planes that go down at sea.

So then, how and why does the story exist at all?

The answer is that it never did, until 1945 when a flight of five Navy training planes (the infamous "Flight 19") ran out of fuel and ditched, and were unfortunately never recovered. An author, Vincent Gaddis, dramatized this in the fiction magazine Argosy in 1964 with a story titled "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle", the first time the name is known to have been used. But it remained a relatively unknown footnote until 1974, when paranormal author Charles Berlitz published his mass market paperback The Bermuda Triangle. It was the perfect book for the New Age movement of the 1970s, and quite suddenly the Triangle became a giant fixture in urban legendry.

It fell to a skeptical researcher, Larry Kusche, to attempt to debunk Berlitz's assault on the public intellect, which he did most thoroughly with his book published the following year titled The Bermuda Triangle — Solved. Unfortunately, as we see so often, the market took little interest in the humdrum assertion that something amazing and paranormal did not in fact exist, and it was Berlitz's version that has remained the icon of the story.

On his summary of the Bermuda Triangle, researcher Robert Carroll writes of Kusche's efforts:

After examining the 400+ page official report of the Navy Board of Investigation of the disappearance of the Navy planes in 1945, Kusche found that the Board wasn't baffled at all by the incident and did not mention alleged radio transmissions cited by Berlitz in his book. According to Kusche, what isn't misinterpreted by Berlitz is fabricated. Kusche writes: "If Berlitz were to report that a boat were red, the chance of it being some other color is almost a certainty."

And so despite the fact that unexplained losses have happened there — just as they happen everywhere — it turns out that the Bermuda Triangle is nothing more than an invention, and subsequent embellishment, by imaginative authors.

The Devil's Sea

It goes by many names: the Devil's Sea, the Dragon's Triangle, and the Taiwan Triangle; and, just as is the Bermuda Triangle, it's even sometimes called the Devil's Triangle. Its location varies a bit depending on which author you read, but the triangle usually runs from Taiwan up to the volcanic island of Miyake-jima just south of Tokyo, to about Iwo-jima or thereabouts. Miyake-jima and Iwo-jima lie along the Izu-Bonin volcanic arc, a line of underwater volcanoes and islands that's part of a system stretching 2500 kilometers from Japan to Guam. Some, like Charles Berlitz, say that the Devil's Sea is every bit as dangerous and mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle.

In his 1989 book The Dragon's Triangle, Berlitz said that Japan lost five military vessels in the area between 1952 and 1954 alone, with a loss of some 700 sailors. In Dan Cohen's 1974 book Curses, Hexes, & Spells it's reported that legends of the danger of the Devil's Sea go back for centuries in Japan. Its most famous casualty was the No. 5 Kaiyo-Maru, a scientific research vessel, which disappeared with the loss of all hands on September 24, 1953 (a date often wrongly reported as 1952 or 1958).

With such a dramatic history, you'd expect there to be all sorts of books on the subject, especially in Japan. But it turns out that the eager researcher is disappointed. A search for books, newspaper, or magazine articles on the Devil's Sea comes up completely empty, until a full 20 years after the loss of the Kaiyo-Maru. Apparently, the story — even the very existence of this legendary named region — was not invented until very recently.

Enter cryptozoologist and paranormal enthusiast Ivan T. Sanderson, well known for his Bigfoot searches, but perhaps not as well known for his Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, New Agers and other paranormalists would hang out at Sanderson's estate, nicknamed The Farm, and read, write, and research. In his group's newsletter Pursuit in April of 1971, Sanderson wrote of something he called "vile vortices", twelve spots around the globe that he believed could be portals to another dimension. In 1972, the article was reprinted in Saga magazine under the title "The Twelve Devil's Graveyards Around the World". In addition to the north pole and the south pole, Sanderson proposed ten triangles circling the globe, all the same size, shape, and orientation as the Bermuda Triangle. Five, including the Bermuda Triangle, are supposedly spaced equidistantly around the Tropic of Cancer (about 23.5° N) and the other five staggered between them along the Tropic of Capricorn (about 23.5° S). The Devil's Sea is another of the five northern triangles, with another enclosing the volcanoes of Hawaii.

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Sanderson's vile vortices are just one of any number of theoretical grid systems overlaid onto the Earth by New Age enthusiasts over the years. An icosahedron, a shape made of twenty equilateral triangles, can be roughly fitted over Sanderson's grid, if you use a little imagination. Other grid systems suggest a dodecahedron, a twelve-sided figure with pentagonal sides. There's the Becker-Hagens "planetary grid system" of 1983, and the so-called "Russian grid" which represents the Earth as a crystalline shape. Take virtually any ancient site — the Great Pyramid, Machu Picchu, Tiwanaku — and you can be sure that a New Ager has written a book drawing ley lines through it and calling its position on the Earth spiritually significant.

It was at Sanderson's "Farm" that Charles Berlitz researched and wrote parts of The Bermuda Triangle, and from Sanderson's vile vortices that he drew the inspiration for the Devil's Sea. It was only upon his book's 1974 appearance, which did discuss the Devil's Sea in addition to the Bermuda Triangle, that the literature suddenly became flooded with accounts of this new mystery region, and with tales that it had been feared for centuries. Try as I might, I was not able to find any reference to the Devil's Sea (or any of its other names) in any books or newspapers, either in English or in Japanese, prior to Berlitz's and Sanderson's publications. Such a search reveals that nearly all published references are from the early seventies, immediately upon the heels of Sanderson's 1971 and 1972 articles.

In short, there is no Devil's Sea, and there never was, outside the imagination of Ivan Sanderson and the authors who wrote about his vile vortices.

As he did with Berlitz's Bermuda Triangle book, Larry Kusche also took on the task of setting the record straight about the alleged disappearances of Japanese military boats cited by Berlitz in his 1989 The Dragon's Triangle. Kusche did find that what Berlitz had called military vessels were actually fishing boats, and they'd been lost at the same rate that fishing boats have always been lost in and around Japan, whether they were inside Sanderson's vortex or not. Deep sea fishing has always been dangerous, and sometimes fishing boats sink. No mystery needed.

It turns out that the 1953 loss of the No. 5 Kaiyo-Maru was not mysterious either. Its crew of nine scientists and 22 crew were on hand to document a very active submarine volcano called Myōjin-Shō which erupted from 1952-1953, creating an island that repeatedly appeared and exploded. The boat was evidently simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was destroyed by volcanic ejecta, creating something of a national tragedy. Debris from the ship was later found, proving that it had not gone to some alternate dimension in some author's mind.

Conclusion

And so we find that most popular attempts to solve the Bermuda Triangle and Devil's Sea mysteries are mere fool's gold; they are searches for answers to a question that is made up, and has none. As with so many mysteries we examine here on Skeptoid, the actual discovery is to look past the fictional questions posed by the marketers, and instead understand the reasons why the legend exists at all, and how it came to be such a phenomenon. Finding the right answer is not always as important as asking the right question.

Brian Dunning

© 2012 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Berlitz, C. The Dragon's Triangle. New York: Wynwood Press, 1989.

Carroll, R. "Bermuda (or Devil's) Triangle." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 19 Dec. 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <http://www.skepdic.com/bermuda.html>

Childress, D. Anti-Gravity and the World Grid. Stelle: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1987. 8-50.

Cohen, D. Curses, Hexes, & Spells. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1974. 56.

Gaddis, V. "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle." Argosy. 1 Feb. 1964, Volume 358, Number 2: 28-29, 116-118.

Grigonis, R. "Downfall." Tribute to Ivan T. Sanderson. Richard Grigonis, 17 Oct. 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://www.richardgrigonis.com/Ch13%20Downfall.html>

Kusche, L. The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

NHHC. "The Bermuda Triangle." Naval History and Heritage Command. United States Navy, 9 Jul. 1997. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq8-1.htm>

Sanderson, I. "The Twelve Devil's Graveyards Around the World." Saga. 1 Aug. 1972, August 1972.

USCG. "Does the Bermuda Triangle really exist?" Coast Guard History. United States Coast Guard, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2012. <http://www.uscg.mil/history/faqs/triangle.asp>

Yashima, K., Nishizawa, A., Ootani, Y. The Survey of Myojim-Sho, the Submarine Volcano, by Umanned Radio Operating Boat Manbou-II. Seoul: International Federation of Surveyors, 2001.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Bermuda Triangle and the Devil's Sea." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 20 Nov 2012. Web. 31 Jul 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4337>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 57 comments

The Bermuda Triangle is nothing compared to the dreaded Ottawa Triangle in Canada!

Its an elongated scalene triangle whose borders run from Ottawa to Montreal to Toronto, and back to Ottawa.

Its the worst area in Canada, where taxpayers' money disappears at an alarming rate!

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
October 19, 2013 9:09am

First on the comments on alternative treatments like acupuncture. The human body is not a machine and ailments/disease are not broken machine parts. There is alot about the body and interactions with injury/disease that are not understood. Thus the term "practicing" medicine. Thus acupuncture may work for person X and not person Y. Does not make it quack medicine (especially if you tried traditional first) just means the almighty doc/scientist has another mystery.

As for the triangle I looked at it though another line of thought. Maybe it overall is not more deadly than somewhere else in relation to number of incidents vs travel though it.

But I propose it may be there is a unusually higher number of UNEXPLAINED and/or IMPROBABLE documented incidents and disapearences than other places.

For example ships/planes that disappear that logically should not have or experienced phenomenom (ex green electro fog and arrival times faster than possible) that is at yet unexplained.

All these in relation to (ex) a similar area over the central part of IL.

It could also be phenomanom that is natural but unusual by current knowledge like (ex) a vortex.

Some may laugh but remember rouge waves were DENIED BY SCIENCE dispite reputable reports for DECADES. Until two photos emerged then "main stream science" finally accepted it.

Just food for thought

Eric, Northern Il USA
November 4, 2013 1:53am

Sorry Eric, your first paragraph makes acupuncture the publicly quack medicine it is. I could not have put it more succinctly, well done.

Your proposal on the triangle is about as distractive an arument as presented to date.

On rogue waves, you are rehashing garbage you proposed a long time ago. If you cant even understand why and when rogue waves were investigated by science (your above is profoundly incorrect) and not understand why a rogue wave is dangerous by reading the merest of wiki articles then your continuing debate is void.

Its trivialising your general input elsewhere.

Magnificent Devon, Ich bin ein Berliner?, Pho\'s diner, Big Il, USO
November 14, 2013 4:04pm

Sigh.
I don't know why Magnificent devon why you continue your falsehood on rouge waves.

What is more astounding is you trying to use WIKI as evidence of your rants.

Here is the quote from WIKI

Once considered mythical and lacking hard evidence for their existence, rogue waves are now proven to exist and known to be a natural ocean phenomenon. Eyewitness accounts from mariners and damages inflicted on ships have long suggested they occurred; however, their scientific measurement was only positively confirmed following measurements of the "Draupner wave", a rogue wave at the Draupner platform, in the North Sea on January 1, 1995.

So until 1995 dispite the qualifications of sea capt the mention of rouge waves was treated the same as giant squids (BTW NOW PROVEN EXIST TOO).

As for accupunture it is not quack science to those WHO TRIED TRADITIONAL methods FIRST and it helped. The question is why this person and not that.

So if you would like to comment/discuss the triangle idea I have raised fine.

But if you continue your rant on rouge waves I am afraid the FACTS and not I are trivializing your arguments.

Eric, Northern IL USA
November 17, 2013 7:39pm

First, realized skeptics makes their money being skeptical, which is perfectly okay, however, they are not experts - (neither am I) they just read what they what to read and then make their case. It keeps us on our toes.

It will take research, much more than is being applied today in order to determine what is actually happening in these two areas (Bermuda and Dragon Triangles). Compiling data is good, however, real experimentation is needed versus some mere hypotheses - as what I see happening today.

Both non-believers and believers will make their information fit their ideals - actual experiments of these two areas are needed to truly find the real answers.

The justification, 1,100 people died in the Bermuda Triangle during the last 10 years. True or false; that really is immaterial to problem, it is taking lives and we need to stop it!

This is just one of many unexplained events happening in our advanced scientific world that has no answers. We are using our technology for silly gadgets versus real useful applications for humanity. Life is not a game that we all play, research and development should be directed in areas to aid all humanity verse those with just Xboxes, playstations, iphones, etc.

Finding the real answers to these two areas itself may not be an earth shaking advancement, i.e. a man on the moon wasn't either. But the technology to get them on the moon was a huge advancement for mankind - the same could be true in finding these answers.

Jerry Greelis, Palm Bay FL
December 25, 2013 1:49pm

Jerry must've missed the part about losses in those areas being proportional to the traffic in them.

1100 people over 10 years is 110 per year in an area packed with weekend sailors, commercial traffic and desperate migrants, with lots of island obstacles and shoals.

Brendan, Ontario
December 25, 2013 8:54pm

maybe to many amateur pleasure sailors and human error the sea has allways been a dangerous place rouge waves could explain a lot

andy, glasgow
March 4, 2014 4:43pm

You all know about the plane disappeared while flying in air close to China. The area in known as Devils triangle. It is my belief that it could have caught in a under sea volcanic irruption, which effected suddenly above see level and could have dragged the plane in to the water and disappeared .It may have not floated for some time in the sea while the engine was running, but have gone in to the sea like a fish and lying in a deep trench. (Please discuss)

ananda seneviratne, Hikkaduwa, Srilanka.
March 21, 2014 8:56am

"The justification, 1,100 people died in the Bermuda Triangle during the last 10 years. True or false; that really is immaterial to problem, it is taking lives and we need to stop it!"

About 160,000 people die every day. So over ten years, 584 million people die.

New York City has 8.3 million people and there's 7.1 billion in the world. Applying the global average death rate for a ten year period, 600,000 people died in New York over the last ten years.

WHEN WILL MANHATTAN'S DEADLY ONSLAUGHT END!?

"You all know about the plane disappeared while flying in air close to China. The area in known as Devils triangle."

It didn't and it's not.

It was about 600 miles from China and almost 2,000 miles from the so-called Devil's Triangle.

Another Nick, Alexandria VA
April 25, 2014 10:35am

All of us has our own ideas, and for certain they all don't align EVER.
Which means, until some real research is completed and just maybe some of the unexplained phenomena is proven and duplicated; none of the different ideas has any validity - including mine!

When I mention 110,000 lives lost in the Bermuda Triangle in ten years; I failed to say one important thing. If just one of those 110,000 lives were not lost because of human error, that is enough for further research in my book.

It is unfortunate, however, many of those lives were not amateurs, not elders closing their lives down, or drug transporters. Some were very experienced, professionals working at their respective jobs.

JerryG, Palm Bay, FL
June 5, 2014 4:32am

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