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Saltstraumen whirlpool
A whirlpool in a glass of water
A small whirlpool in Tionesta Creek in the Allegheny National Forest
Moggio Udinese Fella 2008 0410 02.ogg
Whirlpools in the Fella near Moggio Udinese, Italy

A whirlpool is a swirling body of water usually produced by ocean tides. The vast majority of whirlpools are not very powerful. More powerful ones are more properly termed maelstroms. Vortex is the proper term for any whirlpool that has a downdraft. (Technically, these approximate to a 'free vortex', in which the tangential velocity (v) increases as the centre line is approached, so that the angular momentum (rv) is constant). Very small whirlpools can easily be seen when a bath or a sink is draining, but these are produced in a very different manner from those in nature. Smaller whirlpools also appear at the base of many waterfalls. In the case of powerful waterfalls, like Niagara Falls, these whirlpools can be quite strong. The most powerful whirlpools are created in narrow shallow straits with fast flowing water.

The five strongest whirlpools in the world are the Saltstraumen outside Bodø in Norway, which reaches speeds of 37 km/h; the Moskstraumen off the Lofoten islands in Norway (the original maelstrom), which reaches speeds of 27.8 km/h; the Old Sow in Eastport, Maine, United States, which has been measured with a speed of up to 27.6 km/h; the Naruto whirlpools in Japan, which have a speed of 20 km/h; and the Corryvreckan in Scotland, which reaches speeds of 18 km/h.

Powerful whirlpools have killed unlucky seafarers, but their power tends to be exaggerated by laymen. There are virtually no stories of large ships ever being sucked into a whirlpool. Tales like those by Paul the Deacon, Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe are entirely fictional. The closest equivalent might have been the short-lived whirlpool that sucked in a portion of Lake Peigneur in New Iberia, Louisiana, USA after a drilling mishap in 1980. This was not a naturally-occurring whirlpool, but a man-made disaster caused by breaking through the roof of a salt mine. The lake then behaved like a gigantic bathtub being drained, until the mine filled and the water levels equalized. Although some boats and semi trailers were pulled into it in the classic whirlpool stereotype, no human lives were lost.

In popular imagination, but only rarely in reality, whirlpools can have the dangerous effect of destroying boats. In the 8th century, Paul the Deacon, who had lived among the Belgii, described tidal bores and the maelstrom for a Mediterranean audience unused to such violent tidal surges:

Not very far from this shore... toward the western side, on which the penus main lies open without end, is that very deep whirlpool of waters which we call by its familiar name "the navel of the sea." This is said to suck in the waves and spew them forth again twice every day...
They say there is another whirlpool of this kind between the island of Britain and the province of Galicia, and with this fact the coasts of the Seine region and of Aquitaine agree, for they are filled twice a day with such sudden inundations that any one who may by chance be found only a little inward from the shore can hardly get away.
I have heard a certain high nobleman of the Gauls relating that a number of ships, shattered at first by a tempest, were afterwards devoured by this same Charybdis. And when one only out of all the men who had been in these ships, still breathing, swam over the waves, while the rest were dying, he came, swept by the force of the receding waters, up to the edge of that most frightful abyss. And when now he beheld yawning before him the deep chaos whose end he could not see, and half dead from very fear, expected to be hurled into it, suddenly in a way that he could not have hoped he was cast upon a certain rock and sat him down. — Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, i.6

In "Vingt mille lieues sous les mers" (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), first published in 1869–1870 in the magazine Magasin d'Éducation et de Récréation, Jules Verne (1828–1905) wrote :

«Maelstrom! Maelstrom!» s'écriait-il! Le Maelstrom! Un nom plus effrayant dans une situation plus effrayante pouvait-il retentir à notre oreille?

Which means "'Maelstrom! Maelstrom!' he exclaimed! The Maelstrom! Could a more frightening name in a more frightening situation blare in our ear?"

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Up to date as of January 22, 2010
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From Wikisource

The Whirlpool
by Lord Dunsany

Once going down to the shore of the great sea I came upon the Whirlpool lying prone upon the sand and stretching his huge limbs in the sun.

I said to him: "Who art thou?"

And he said:

"I am named Nooz Wana, the Whelmer of Ships, and from the Straits of Pondar Obed I am come, wherein it is my wont to vex the seas. There I chased Leviathan with my hands when he was young and strong; often he slipped through my fingers, and away into the weed forests that grow below the storms in the dusk on the floor of the sea; but at last I caught and tamed him. For there I lurk upon the ocean"s floor, midway between the knees of either cliff, to guard the passage of the Straits from all the ships that seek the Further Seas; and whenever the white sails of the tall ships come swelling round the corner of the crag out of the sunlit spaces of the Known Sea and into the dark of the Straits, then standing firm upon the ocean"s floor, with my knees a little bent, I take the waters of the Straits in both my hands and whirl them round my head. But the ship comes gliding on with the sound of the sailors singing on her decks, all singing songs of the islands and carrying the rumour of their cities to the lonely seas, till they see me suddenly astride athwart their course, and are caught in the waters as I whirl them round my head. Then I draw in the waters of the Straits towards me and downwards, nearer and nearer to my terrible feet, and hear in my ears above the roar of my waters the ultimate cry of the ship; for just before I drag them to the floor of ocean and stamp them asunder with my wrecking feet, ships utter their ultimate cry, and with it go the lives of all the sailors and passes the soul of the ship. And in the ultimate cry of ships are the songs the sailors sing, and their hopes and all their loves, and the song of the wind among the masts and timbers when they stood in the forest long ago, and the whisper of the rain that made them grow, and the soul of the tall pine-tree or the oak. All this a ship gives up in one cry which she makes at the last. And at that moment I would pity the tall ship if I might; but a man may feel pity who sits in comfort by his fireside telling tales in the winter--no pity are they permitted ever to feel who do the work of the gods; and so when I have brought her circling from round my shoulders to my waist and thence, with her masts all sloping inwards, to my knees, and lower still and downwards till her topmast pennants flutter against my ankles, then I, Nooz Wana, Whelmer of Ships, lift up my feet and trample her beams asunder, and there go up again to the surface of the Straits only a few broken, timbers and the memories of the sailors and of their early loves to drift for ever down the empty seas.

"Once in every hundred years, for one day only, I go to rest myself along the shore and to sun my limbs on the sand, that the tall ships may go through the unguarded Straits and find the Happy Isles. And the Happy Isles stand midmost among the smiles of the sunny Further Seas, and there the sailors may come upon content and long for nothing; or if they long for aught, they shall possess it.

"There comes not Time with his devouring hours; nor any of the evils of the gods or men. These are the islands whereto the souls of the sailors every night put in from all the world to rest from going up and down the seas, to behold again the vision of far-off intimate hills that lift their orchards high above the fields facing the sunlight, and for a while again to speak with the souls of old. But about the dawn dreams twitter and arise, and circling thrice around the Happy Isles set out again to find the world of men, then follow the souls of the sailors, as, at evening, with slow stroke of stately wings the heron follows behind the flight of multitudinous rooks; but the souls returning find awakening bodies and endure the toil of the day. Such are the Happy Isles, whereunto few have come, save but as roaming shadows in the night, and for only a little while.

"But longer than is needed to make me strong and fierce again I may not stay, and at set of sun, when my arms are strong again and when I feel in my legs that I can plant them fair and bent upon the floor of ocean, then I go back to take a new grip upon the waters of the Straits, and to guard the Further Seas again for a hundred years. Because the gods are jealous, lest too many men shall pass to the Happy Isles and find content. For the gods have not content."

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Simple English

, Italy]] A whirlpool is a swirling body of water. It is usually produced by ocean tides.

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