The Shag Harbour Incident; A Precedent for Underwater UFOs

alien spaceship floating underwater 3d illustration

UFOs have always been one of society’s most controversial concepts. But in the world of ufology, one incident rises to the top of the most intriguing cases in the history of alien existence – the Shag Harbour Incident which took place in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1967. Still unsolved, the mystery surrounding the object, which landed into the waters off the frigid Atlantic coast provides insights into old and existing beliefs surrounding UFOs and the lesser-known classification of Unidentified Submarine Objects, or USOs. 

What can we learn from the idea of life on other planets that are reported arriving in our skies, or landing in our waters? As with most things, understanding the history surrounding UFOs may help to uncover some of the mystery which surrounds them.

The Strange History of the Shag Harbour UFO Incident

Wednesday, October 4, 1967; it was another regular day in Shag Harbour, the small, Nova Scotia fishing village on the Atlantic Coast in Canada. Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States; the Boston Red Sox were playing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series; the counterculture hippies declared the end of the “summer of love.”

But for Canadian residents that day, a strange object what witnessed plunging from the skies before landing into frigid waters; an object which launched a collaborative investigation including the Royal Mounted Canadian Police, the Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian military forces, and the United States’ Condon Committee, the short-lived, controversial University of Colorado UFO Project funded by the Air Force between 1966-68.  

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After 11:00 p.m., local fisherfolk, police, and village residents reported the same sighting: a “low flying object with flashing lights whoosh[ing] over the town and hit the water about 300 meters offshore. It floated awhile as a group onshore watched the “orange ball” bobbing in the waves, and then slipped beneath the surface.”

Assumed to be a plane crash, emergency crews rushed to the scene. However, what they found, or in this case didn’t find, has baffled the military and ufologists for more than half a century. For the sleepy fishing village, that lived quietly in obscurity, life was never to be the same again. 

While authorities deemed the incident to have happened, many unanswered questions remain as to the actual origin of the mysterious flying object. As well, the question of UFOs had already been widely studied and argued; however, there was little that was understood about what has since come to be referred to as “USOs,” or unidentified submarine objects. 

Canadian reporting of the Shag Harbour Incident


USO UFOs: Unidentified Submarine Objects

USOs are defined as “unknown craft that are sighted in the water, sighted rising up out of the water, or diving into the water.” Sightings have been reported by members of the United States Navy, shared by former U.S. Navy Commander David Fravor’s encounter with one during the famous USS Nimitz experience reported in The New York Times.

At least a decade before the Shag Harbour Incident, there had been a number of USO reports, recorded by author and biologist Ivan Sanderson in, Invisible Residents: The Reality of Underwater UFOs, published in 1970. More recent USO reports include the famous Tic-Tac UFO, witnessed in 2004 by at least three naval officers off the coast of San Clemente, California.

Described as being the shape of the popular mint, the former naval officer has been adamant what he and his colleague witnessed was not necessarily proof of the existence of aliens, but simply what the U.S. Navy refers to as unidentified aerial phenomena or UAPs, their preferred moniker over UFOs. 

USOs have been cited by eyewitnesses around the globe, from Japan to Puerto Rico, San Francisco, and of course, Shag Harbour. What is it about the Shag Harbour Incident that continues to foster curiosity and even pride, with the Royal Canadian Mint creating a commemorative coin in honor of the mysterious event and the city of Nova Scotia maintaining the Shag Harbour UFO Incident Centre, a popular tourist attraction that hosts an annual Shag Harbour Incident festival.

Shag Harbour; Canada’s Roswell

While the incident has become a local oddity and draws tourists interested in UFOs, the actual incident fell below the radar soon after the initial investigation. That was until 1993 when renewed interest was fostered by the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and investigator Chris Styles, a Canadian UFO researcher who witnessed the Shag Harbour Incident as a young boy. MUFON, founded in 1969, is recognized as the largest non-profit network of leading civilian UFO researchers and investigators, dedicated to providing “unbiased, scientifically-based investigations and promotion of research on the UFO phenomenon.”

Styles and MUFON uncovered material not previously published that shed light on what occurred that night in October 1967, essentially making a UFO “cold case,” very hot again.

Divers at the scene state a series of facts that include sightings of more than one UFO/USO entering the area and detected by naval vessels and hydrophones; however, those eyewitness information were given “off the record,” perhaps for fear of retaliation, loss of military benefits, or other reasons. As well, as the Shag Harbour Incident occurred during the Cold War years, theories that the USO was, in fact, a Russian spacecraft might have added to the anonymity of the reports. Some, including Styles, believe that the Shag Harbour Incident is a coverup by the Canadian government.

Unidentified Submerged Objects Perpetuate UFO Interest

Despite the reputation around UFOs being on the “fringe,” militaries around the world invest large amounts of time and energy studying them. The aforementioned University of Colorado UFO Project was one of many government-funded operations attempting to investigate unknown space, land, and water objects. 

As written in The New York Times, the U.S. Defense Department allocated $22 million to fund the secretive Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP), dedicated to looking into reports of UFOs. While funding for the AATIP program was eliminated in 2012, the program remains active. The program was initiated by former Nevada Senator Harry Reid with bipartisan congressional support and reignited interest in the existence of UFOs. 

Prior to the creation of AATIP, the U.S Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which reportedly looked into over 12,000 UFO sightings. Between 1952-1969. Both programs were the result of countless eyewitness accounts by scores of creditable service people during active duty; however, Project Blue Book now has declassified status and has garnered renewed interest, including a new History Channel program by the same name. Even further back is the government’s Project Sign, which began in 1940 and provided some of the most credible footage of UFOs ever recorded. 

It’s no secret that UFOs and USOs have long captured the interest of everyday civilians, from Area 51 to Point Mugu, Malibu, to sightings often reported by airline passengers. Beyond the ostensible ebb and flow of government interest in UFOs, scientists at academic institutions such as M.I.T. emphasize that funding UFO research doesn’t necessarily constitute a validation of the possible existence of aliens, but rather part of the natural process of scientific inquiry.

Modern interest in UFOs, USOs, and extraterrestrial life has evolved from a fascination to what could be viewed as a new form of mythology, and for some, a kind of spirituality. With the New Age era as well, an openness to the concept of extraterrestrial life has become more widely studied and accepted in mainstream environments. 

Regardless of one’s belief in the existence of UFOs, the residents of Shag Harbour will never forget that fateful day on October 4, 1967, when the vast skies delivered a mysterious airship into the waiting Atlantic ocean. Russian spy plane or UFO? We may never know, but the quest to explore the unknown will always be the realm of the human experience.

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