I recently read a really good book, Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant. It is a follow up to her equally awesome novella, Rolling in the Deep, and it is scary as hell. It takes place above the Mariana Trench, and it involves mermaids. Terrifying mermaids. Jaws meets one of H. P. Lovecraft’s beasties mermaids. Biologically plausible predatory I-will-never-swim-in-saltwater-again-as-God-as-my-witness mermaids. I will not even go on a cruise ship because dammit some things are too horrible to contemplate kinda mermaids.
This book was a big ol’ heap of NOPE, but like any really good book it sent me down the research rabbit hole. Were there really that many unexplained, mysterious, where-the-frak-did-the-crew-go disappearances near the Mariana Trench? China and Japan haven’t been fishing near there for eons, so how bad can it be? Is there some sort of Pacific version of the Bermuda Triangle there?
Funny you should ask. (Fine.I am the one who asked, but don’t be so pedantic, okay? No one likes that.) There is an area of ocean around the Mariana Trench that the Japanese call Ma no Umi, The Devil’s Sea. In China, the same waters are referred to as either the Dragon’s Triangle or the Formosa (Taiwan) Triangle (Fúěrmóshā Sānjiǎo). It is not really, triangular, per se; it is merely considered to be roughly mapped within/around three points: Miyake Island, which is about 100 km south of Tokyo, to Taiwan, to the area around the Mariana Islands (with the US territory of Guam on the southern end of the island chain).
According to some people, there is Japanese and Chinese lore warning that boats vanish in the region for unknown reasons, but possibly because dragons have dragged them under the waves and devoured the crew. However, Skeptoid author Brian Dunning found that it wasn’t lore at all. His search “for books, newspaper, and magazine articles on the Dragon’s Triangle came up completely empty, until [the 70s] Apparently, the story (even the very existence of this legendary named region) was not invented until very recently.” The Devil’s Sea is an area of recent (within 50 years) disappearances in unusually high number.
Like many deadly phenomenon on the planet today, these maritime disasters are probably related to global warming. There is a “vast field of methane hydrates present on the bottom of the ocean in the Dragon’s Triangle area. Methane clathrates (methane hydrates gas) will “explode” when it rises above 18 °C (64 °F). Methane hydrates gas are described as icelike deposites that break off from the bottom and rise, forming bubbles on the surface of the water. These gas eruptions can interrupt buoyancy and can easily sink a ship, leaving no trace of debris.” These deposits, which are also prevalent near Bermuda, are dangerous enough when the climate is stable. Now, ass the ocean temp rises, so does the odds of a methane hydrate ‘pop’ to literally take all the float out of a boat.
Now, being a reasonable person with an IQ of at least three digits I think methane clathrates or volcanic activity explains the heightened dangers of certain areas of water. I don’t think it is alien abductions or sea monsters or dimensional portal. Nevertheless, Mira Grant (who also writes as Seanan McGuire) did a damn good job giving a nightmare scenario to explain it as well.
To be honest, knowing there is an actual substance that can just sink your ship in the middle of the deep blue sea and turn you into pressurized shark chow isn’t exactly restful either. Mother Nature is an uncaring, savage serial killer, she is. She doesn’t need anthropophagous mermaids when there is so much else on the planet she can use to end the lives of puny mortals. And that was before we irked her by dumping pollutants all over her.
My grandfather, who served in the Pacific theater in WWII, sailed in the waters now called the Devil’s Sea and fought on the islands in the area. There was nothing about war as frightening to him as the weird and an inexplicable things he saw while sailing the ocean blue. I used to listen to his tales of St Elmo’s fire and ball lightening and rouge waves and the night the ocean lit up under him and the time he saw a sea serpent (he thinks it was actually an oarfish but it freaked him out) with both fascination and awe. He claimed the waters between the Mariana Trench and Japan weren’t ‘normal’, weren’t like the deep seas off the Philippines, and were eerie even without the threat of a submarine attack.
Nonetheless, he loved the ocean. Just because something is deadly doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful and alluring.
Just like mermaids.