Amusing Monday: Listen and learn about all kinds of underwater sounds

Years ago, people living near Quilcene in Jefferson County reported an eerie humming sound that kept them awake at night. Since Quilcene is located near the Navy’s acoustic-testing range in Dabob Bay, some folks speculated that the Navy was up to something.

Plainfin midshipman Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Plainfin midshipman // Photo: Wash. Department of Fish and Wildlife

Some people thought it might be some kind of frog, and a few advanced theories of extra-terrestrials. Finally, an acoustic biologist heard a recording of the sound and concluded that it was a midshipman, a bottom-dwelling fish often called a bullhead. (Click on the arrow below to listen.)

      1. Plainfin midshipman


I have not been able to locate the story I wrote about the incident, but it appears the fish created similar confusion three years ago in Seattle, according to a story by Ryan Grenoble in the Huffington Post. I wonder how many other people have heard a similar humming noise that they could not identify.

What I’m leading up to is an amusing webside called Discovery of Sound in the Sea, which allows you to check out all kinds of underwater sounds. Did you know that some sea urchins can form a chorus of sound while grazing on vegetated rocks?

      2. Sea urchin

“Discovery of Sound in the Sea,” or DOSITS, is packed with information about the science of underwater sound, including jobs in the field and equipment used by researchers. There’s even a list of activities, which can be used to teach children about sound.

I find that the most engaging part of the website is the Audio Gallery, a list of recorded sounds that can be selected and played. The list consists of eight different baleen whales; 17 toothed whales, porpoises and dolphins; 10 seals and sea lions; a manatee; four invertebrates, including the sea urchin; 21 fish; seven natural nonbiological sounds, such as rain under water; and 12 man-made sounds from wind turbines to torpedoes.

The website is associated with the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and Marine Acoustics, Inc., of Middletown, RI. Contributors include independent researchers, school teachers and others. The U.S. Office of Naval Research has provided financial support.

Here’s a sample of some interesting sounds. I’ve included the sound of the fin whale, a species seen in Puget Sound last week for the first time in decades. Check out the report by King 5 TV. If you visit the DOSITS website, you’ll get details about each recording and what is making the sound.

A killer whale mother and calf calling to each other in Johnstone Strait in British Columbia

      3. Killer whale
Baleen whales
      4. Gray whale
      5. Humpback whale
      6. Fin whale
Man-made sounds
      7. Cargo ship
      8. Torpedo

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