USO: The Mystery Under the Waves

Updated on October 2, 2019
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects including education and creative writing.


The sonar blip caught everyone by surprise. It was 2011 and the Ocean X crew – a deep-sea treasure hunting and salvage organization – were near the Swedish coast in the Baltic Sea scanning the ocean floor for sunken ships.

At first, the crew believed they found a long-lost wreckage. However, upon closer review, the sonar image revealed something nobody expected, supposed remnants of a massive disc-shaped object.

Soon, the discovery hit the press and went international. Many speculated it was a natural formation carved from the currents. But, others believed it was not natural…and may not be human. Still, nobody knew what laid at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. As a result, it received the distinctive label of "USO".

What is a USO?

The acronym stands for Unidentified Submerged Object. In many respects, it is equivalent to UFOs (Unidentified Flying Object). While a UFO is that strange thing spotted in the sky, a USO is its equivalent. The difference, however, is that it is found under the surface of a large body of water.

Eyewitness accounts vary. Many describe a submerged disc moving at great speed. Others mention seeing something stationary and glowing. In rare occasions, some claim to see a USO shoot out from the water and rocket toward the open skies (many of these reports have never been confirmed or corroborated).

In addition, these reports suggest that the USOs come in many shapes and sizes. While the most popular description is that of a saucer, other popular ones are:

  • Cigar-shaped
  • Triangular
  • An orb

While they are not as popular as UFOs are in popular culture, they’ve been at the center of many modern-day aquatic legends. It’s not unusual to hear someone bring up USO with stories about the lost continent of Atlantis, The Bermuda Triangle or the Dragon’s Triangle in the Pacific.

First Sightings?

When it comes to UFO and USO sightings, the line between myth and history tend to be blurred. Some UFOlogists (those who study UFOs) and paranormal investigators claimed that historical figures such as Alexander the Great and Christopher Columbus witnessed seeing USOs or UFOS. Accounts about Alexander’s sighting are sketchy at best and appears that much of the evidence came from a book written in the late 20th century.

The Christopher Columbus account has a longer history. Supposedly, Columbus wrote in his journal of seeing lights emerging from the ocean. He described it as “a small wax candle that rose and lifted up, which a few seemed to be an indication of land.”

This account would later be recorded by his son, Ferdinand. In his own manuscript of his father’s voyage, Ferdinand added that it bobbed up and down.

This account, alone, has been the subject of numerous documentaries. One of the first came from the 1978 theatrical documentary, Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle. In a reenactment of the incident, Columbus witnesses, in horror, several USOs splashing down near his ships. Later, he pulls out his journal and starts to describe the event as they ascend from the ocean.

Decades later, UFO Files, a History Channel presentation, had their version of the event. In this case, it claimed he saw lights under the water that rose above the waves, supposedly attached to a saucer.

While compelling as it sounds, there is a major problem to this account; Columbus’s journal hasn’t survived the test time, and his son’s surviving account were second-hand accounts from his father.

With scant evidence, it’s hard to say if this event happened, at all.

Charles Berlitz Brings Back the USO

The late Charles Berlitz was the grandson of a world-renowned language specialist (essentially responsible for the Berlitz language technique and school). Charles, himself, became a gifted linguist. However, his greatest claim to fame had to do with popularizing the Bermuda Triangle legend, which was first mentioned in a few unimpressive articles by Vincent Gaddis during the 1950s and 60s.

Berlitz’s take on the legend took shape in the best-selling book, The Bermuda Triangle (1974). While much of the book focused on mysterious maritime vanishings of boats and planes in the area of the Atlantic Ocean between the island of Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the south Florida coast, he divulged a considerable amount of time speculating on the cause of these mysteries,chiefly, USOs.

Belief in the mystery of the USO needed a “Roswell” moment. And that’s exactly what happened

Later, Berlitz wrote a companion piece, called The Dragon’s Triangle (1989). Also called the Devil’s Sea, this particular area in the Pacific near Japan supposedly had the same type of reputation as the Bermuda Triangle. And, once again, after nearly every mysterious vanishing Berlitz wrote in this book, he interjected the concept that aliens in USOs – possibly those from an underwater realm such as Atlantis may have been responsible.

While the books were popular, they didn’t do much for understanding the mystery behind USO. Berlitz seemingly used USO as a way to explain away any mysteries when he didn’t have any rationale to solve them (it needs to be noted that many of the mysterious vanishings in both the Bermuda and Dragon’s Triangle have been solved. In addition, several researchers debunked the water legends, claiming they were no different from the surrounding areas within the Atlantic and Pacific).

Belief in the mystery of the USO needed a “Roswell” moment. And that’s exactly what happened.


The Shag Harbour Incident

According to eyewitness accounts, on the night of October 4, 1967, an unidentified object crashed off the coast of a small fishing port near the southern tip of Nova Scotia, Canada. Local fishermen and members of the Canadian Coast Guard immediately went to the supposed crash zone. At the time, many believed that a plane may have crashed.

Later, the Canadian government sent more military personals, including a team of divers, to search for the downed “plane”. At the time, they didn’t have much to go on. The eyewitnesses described seeing something between 60 to 80 feet long, adorned with a row of lights, and making a “bomb-like” whistling sound before smashing into the water. Some stated that it appeared that the object “hovered” above the waves before it submerged. At least one captain on a fishing vessel described seeing a huge “yellowish” foam patch at the point of impact.

For several days, divers scoured the area, looking for any debris from the fallen aircraft. They failed to find anything. On top of that, as the Skeptoid Podcast writer Brian Durring pointed out, the original testimony of the witnesses varied. Some saw three lights gently falling to the ocean while others stated there were four. And the report of it making a noise came from one person. Flares or shooting stars? That may have been the case. However, as the article pointed out, there had been several supposed UFO sightings in the area few weeks prior to this incident.

Legend of Shag Harbour Grows

Much like a myth told through oral tradition from one generation to the next, the Shag Harbour Incident account grew to include more details. By 1993, the original accounts were replaced by a conflated version in which divers found and attempted to recover an alien aircraft.

In later retelling, especially the version told by UFOlogist Chris Styles in the 1993 book, Dark Object: The World’s Only Government-Documented UFO Crash, the USO didn’t sink to the bottom. Instead, it traveled underwater for days. Its path took it near a small offshore anti-submarine support facility operated by the US Navy.

More than 20 years after Styles’s version of events became popular, Internet accounts of the event added more to it. These days, The Shag Harbour Incident is portrayed as the most definitive proof of alien contact. In fact, Shag Harbour has been dubbed Canada’s Roswell.


The USO Craze Grows

Cable TV and the Internet presented more accounts of USOs. Simply use Google and type in the term and one will get thousands of stories from various sites. As mentioned, documentaries on the subject have made it to the big screen during the late seventies. They’ve also found a niche on the small screen as well.

Here are a few of those accounts found on the Internet and TV:

  • UFO published an October 2005 account made by a tourist in Kota Kinablu, Sabah, Malaysia. The tourist described a USO rising from the sea, hovering for a moment, and then streaking away to an unknown destination. This occurred within a five-minute span.
  • The History Channel’s UFO Hunter aired a 2006 segment called “Deep Sea UFO” (later to become a spinoff). Among the most intriguing claim, was about the Catalina Straits, which is between the island and southern California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula. The show’s hosts claimed it was the home to USOs. In addition, they believed these USOs played a part in a World War II incident dubbed the Battle of Los Angeles.
  • In 2014, Huffington Post, along with a pro-UFO site, Fade to Black reported on a supposed underwater Alien base off the coast of Malibu (eventually, Huffington Post verified it was a natural formation).
  • went as far to define USOs as being an “advanced type of UFO that can operate in the water and atmosphere.” In addition, it mentioned the USO’s ability to break through ice, as well as supposed documented events from around the world between 1845 and 2014 (the last being the Underwater Malibu Alien Base).

That’s not all. UFOlogists such as Stanton Friedman (who recently passed away), Bill Birnes, and Preston Dennett were frequent guests on shows specializing in UFOs and USOs. In addition, researchers such as US Navy’s Bruce Maccabee and UCLA’s Kathryn Morgan investigated many of the claims from shows such as UFO Hunter and Deep Sea UFO.

With such attention and people backing the USO investigation, one would think compelling information of their existence would emerge.

An Allusive Truth

Despite all the attention, USOs are still more legend than reality. Eyewitness accounts, such as those from the Shag Harbour Incident proved to be contradictory. Moreover, the events in that particular case were conflated with other UFO incidents in the region (not to mention, more unverified details were added over the years).

The prospect that eyewitnesses may have misidentified animals and naturally occurring incidents from USO is a real possibility. Even the historical journals of those that claimed to have seen it, proved to be elusive or nonexistent.

...the mystery still lingers, thanks to the efforts of a repurposed article from 2011.

At this point, USO can be anything. And, in most cases, that’s exactly what they are: something else. Even the Baltic Sea Anomaly (as it came to be known) that the crew of Ocean X discovered proved to be anything but a USO. In this case, a misplacement of sonars on the ship and the falsely identified rock outcroppings may be at fault.

Then again, the mystery still lingers, thanks to the efforts of a repurposed article from 2011. For nearly a decade this particular article was republished with a few new details added from sketchy sites.

The last publishing was in the highly questionable, which purported that the anomaly was 140,000 years-old. In other words, the Baltic Sea Anomaly is becoming the new version of the Shag Harbour Incident.

A 3-d rendering of the supposed Baltic Sea Anomaly
A 3-d rendering of the supposed Baltic Sea Anomaly | Source
as it appeared on sonar
as it appeared on sonar | Source

© 2019 Dean Traylor


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