Episode Five Extra: Do You Hear What I Hear
Welcome to Unexplained Extra with me Richard MacLean Smith.
For the weeks in between Episodes we look at the stories that for one reason or other didn’t make it into the show.
In last week’s episode, What Hides Beneath, we looked at the infamous K-219 incident and wondered at the many mysteries of the vast ocean deep. Some believe a mysterious underwater sound, known as a Quacker, may hold the key to discovering what happened to the ill-fated nuclear submarine.
Thought to be the call of a large undiscovered sea creature or even a submersible alien spacecraft the Quacker is fast becoming a fixture in modern maritime folklore. But you may not be surprised to hear it is only one of many strange sounds to have been from the depths of the planet’s oceans.
And there is one sound in particular that has given rise to some of the most terrifying theories around. Picked up by hydrophones deep in the pacific, the sound known as the Bloop, may yet prove the most extraordinary of them all…
As the world slipped from the waking horrors of the Second World War into the murkier dimensions of the Cold War, the United States Navy were looking for the next opportunity to gain the upper hand. As a result, the Committee for Undersea Warfare was established in 1949 with it’s primary objective to neutralize any possible underwater threat.
Knowing that sound travels more than 4 times faster and further in water than it does in air, the solution was simple. A monitoring system was created whereby a vast array of underwater microphones, dotted about the North Atlantic, would be trained to pick up the tell tale low frequency hum of a submarine.
The system was an unmitigated success, but what they hadn’t planned for were the extraordinary array of sounds that didn’t match those of a submarine. Or in fact, anything that had been heard before.
After the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as NOAA in 1970, the Navy’s hydrophones were co-opted into a vast government research program. Over the years, the program which focuses on the conditions of the ocean and atmosphere of the earth, has recorded many incredible sounds from the communication of whales to ominous rumbles of volcanic tremors.
However, in 1997, a set of microphones from the equatorial Pacific Ocean region detected a sound that was like no other recorded before. Picked up just west of the southern tip of South America, here a recording of the sound, sped up by 16 times to make it more audible.
(Recording of ‘The Bloop’ see sources below)
NOAA scientist Dr. Christopher Fox, was under no illusions about the origins of such a sound. Primarily that it was not man-made but also that it was organic in nature, possibly even that of an animal. The suggestion was staggering. If the sound was indeed animal in nature, it would belong to a creature the likes of which we have never seen before.
With the sound being several times louder than any marine creature previously recorded, whatever was making it would be several times larger than the blue whale.
However, any question of a huge unknown sea creature lurking in the deep has since been dismissed by NOAA and Oregon State University seismologist Robert Dziak. Speaking to Wired magazine in 2012, he explained that, ‘the frequency and time duration characteristics of the Bloop signal are consistent, and essentially identical, to ice quake signals we have recorded off Antarctica.’ In short, the sound was in actual fact the noise created by the cracking and melting of sea ice.
And yet, not everybody has been wholly satisfied by the explanation, and there is one suggestion that has since caught the public imagination.
Located roughly 1000 miles from the source of the bloop sound is a region of the South Pacific known as the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility. The region is best avoided for those most afraid of the murky waters of the deep. For it is the point of the Ocean located furthest from any sign of land. Or at least, any land that belongs to the world we know.
For if you were able to dive under the water, delving deeper into the bottomless depths you might find yourself coming upon a strange ‘coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth's supreme terror [otherwise known] the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh.’
There, deeper still, imprisoned within the walls of the sunken city sleeps a creature like nothing before seen on this earth. ‘A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.’ Cthulhu, one of the great Old Ones.
Could this creature drawn from the darkest corner of HP Lovecraft’s mind, be the true source of the mysterious bloop? Some believe so.
Perhaps if you listen hard enough, you might catch that dtrange sound hidden in the wind. The chant of worshippers huddled in furthest corners of the dark uttering those unutterable words, while ‘in his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming…’
© Richard MacLean Smith
1. Steadman, I. (2012), The Bloop Mystery Has Been Solved It Was Never A Giant Sea Monster, Wired, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-11/29/bloop-mystery-not-solved-sort-of
2. Bobbitt, A. M, A Collection of Sounds from the Sea, NOAA, http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/sound01/background/seasounds/seasounds.html
3. Bloop, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloop
4. Lovecraft, H. P. (2002) The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, UK: Penguin