The extremely specific fear you’ve never heard of


Collage by Madeline Phelps

Phobias can paralyze people with fear and anxiety. If these images make you nervous, you might have submechanophobia.

Madeline Phelps, Arts Department Editor

Submechanophobia – the fear of man-made objects partially or wholly submerged underwater. If you’ve ever felt unsettled looking at eerie footage of a shipwreck, you may be able to relate to the feeling. If you’ve ever been overcome with unexplainable terror looking at a harmless, semi-realistic underwater statue, you most likely have the phobia. While knowledge and awareness of this particular fear are limited, I can attest to the fact that it is extremely real. Very little frightens me as much as an uncanny looking animatronic resting in the darkness of a body of water…waiting. By sharing some of my first-hand experiences with submechanophobia, I hope to shed some light on this phenomenon and hopefully portray some of my own personal fears as justifiable, even if they are just as bizarre as they sound. 

If I had to blame any sort of media for kickstarting my submechanophobia, it would be Finding Nemo. Watching that film for the first time would be one of my earliest experiences learning about the ocean, the creatures that inhabit it, and, of course, the disturbing debris that rests at its bottom. Watching the film really wouldn’t have been negatively impactful if my first time being exposed to man-made underwater objects did not include a) a submarine inhabited by killer sharks and b) an entire field of exploding underwater mines. Definitely not the best impression. For years, I wondered why I would repeatedly wake up from nightmares about that film, but it wasn’t until I discovered the existence of submechanophobia that my general fear of that film as well as so many other odd experiences I had, started to make sense. 

One childhood experience of mine that, in retrospect, was very indicative of my phobia, took place when I went to visit a lake. I went with a close friend of mine and his mother. The highlight of the trip by far was when we went out on the lake in one of those little paddle boats. For whatever reason, my friend’s mom ended up looking for something in her purse during our brief voyage and was desperate to find it. She was so desperate and determined to find whatever it was that she was looking for, in fact, that the purse slipped out of her hands and into the water. As the green of the lake began flooding the once safe interior of the purse, it began pulling things out with it. A makeup brush. Some lipstick. A pen or two. They started sinking. I could see them falling slowly thanks to the rays of sunlight that forced their way through the water. It was only a matter of seconds before I couldn’t see any of what had been expelled from the purse anymore. The loose objects were headed for the very bottom of the lake, and that terrified me. The thought of them just sitting there under the water where no one could see them or miss them struck me and I was frozen with fear. The purse was saved as were most of the things it held, but not everything was spared. The incident stuck with me until the next time I visited the lake when something similar happened. This time, I watched a large umbrella become swept away by the wind right into the water. The owners of the umbrella ran after it frantically, kicking up sand in their wake. Friendly bystanders rushed to help them, some of them even diving into the water, ready to try and catch the flailing mess of blue and white cloth and wires. The sickly green sun rays exposed its position as it began to slip below the surface. It was too far to be saved and began to sink even faster. The same feeling from before overcame me. In just a short while, that umbrella would be at the bottom of the lake, resting in the sand, forgotten and covered in darkness. I didn’t like that. There was just something so unnatural about the thought of these man-made objects resting at the bottom of some large body of water, growing a thick coat of algae, and rotting. The thought of it bothered me so much that I decided to entirely stop thinking about it. It was irrational, anyway…wasn’t it? It would be years before I’d discover that I wasn’t the only one disturbed by such things. 

As I’ve more recently discovered, there are plenty of people terrified by out of place objects resting in or under the water. In fact, there’s an entire subreddit dedicated to submechanophobia itself. However, when I initially discovered that the fear produced by some of my past experiences had a name, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I actually had it. Sure, I could relate to the phenomenon to an extent, but I had yet to discover any sort of image or concept that would terrify me enough to confirm that I was, in fact, a submechanophobe. After doing a little bit of research, I found exactly what I was hoping I would never find – the Disney World attraction known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Of course, I never actually had the opportunity to experience the attraction in person considering that it closed a good eight years before I was born. However, I was able to look at it in retrospect thanks to many original photographs and pieces of home video footage. That was when I saw it. The image that changed everything. What it portrayed was so horrific to me that, upon looking at it for the very first time, I knew I had to have the phobia. Why else would I find something so seemingly unassuming to be so terrifying? It was too much. The lack of proper lighting, the grim setting, the oversized sea serpent, and the lifeless, pale mermaid animatronics floating above it…truly the stuff of nightmares. And that was only the beginning. As if that image wasn’t horrific enough, I found myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of information that I would have felt much better never knowing about. For instance, the sea serpent animatronic itself was left abandoned underwater for twenty years after the attraction closed. Additionally, I learned that divers who work at the Disney Parks are forced to get up close and personal with these uncanny machines and have to repair them underwater in almost complete darkness. No amount of money in the world would convince me to do something like that. 

However, in learning all of this information and finding myself absolutely terrified at the diverse range of discoveries I had made by looking into the stories behind shipwrecks, underwater plane wrecks, and abandoned film props and animatronics lying at the bottoms of oceans and lakes, I found myself asking, “why?” I had no doubt that my fear was tangible, but I couldn’t explain exactly why I felt so afraid of these things that cause so little harm. Luckily, the more I thought about it, the closer I came to a somewhat reasonable explanation. 

Submechanophobia isn’t just a fear of man-made objects underwater. There’s so much more to it than that. The act of seeing a man-made object at the bottom of a body of water, at its most basic level, is unsettling because it doesn’t belong. Seeing something out of place in such an environment naturally creates an undeniable sense of uncertainty. Additionally, the underwater processes of change and decay are not something we are used to. Water is harsh and difficult to adapt to. The creatures that inhabit it decompose and create entire ecosystems out of debris, making it unrecognizable. What we might have once recognized as an everyday item transforms into something alien when it is left to the underwater elements, producing an unsettling sense of fascination. Finally is the element of the unknown. How something found its way to the bottom of a body of water is not always apparent. It could be the result of an innocent mistake or something much darker. Whether or not an item found abandoned in the water poses a threat can be equally as uncertain. It is all of these elements that make submechanophobia such an interesting and justified fear. 


Image credits to:,,,,, Disney/Pixar