Huffpost Science

Is Mysterious Hum Heard Around World Caused By Noisy Fish Sex?

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MIDSHIPMAN FISH
Could the mysterious hum heard by people around the world be caused by fish mating? | Getty

It's been blamed on everything from high-pressure gas lines to low-frequency earth tremors to submarine communications, but so far researchers have been unable to pinpoint the source of a loud, mysterious humming sound that people around the world have reported hearing.

Now science has an answer. Maybe.

Unofficially known as the Hum, the sound is a droning noise that has been heard from Southampton and Leeds in England to Bondi, Australia, and even Seattle, Wash. While people in a few regions have complained about the intermittent humming for decades, residents in other places have only recently reported hearing it. And for some, the din is unbearable.

LISTEN: The Hum heard in Terrace, British Columbia. (Story continues below.)

"It's a kind of torture; sometimes, you just want to scream," Leeds resident Katie Jacques told the BBC. "It's hard to get off to sleep because I hear this throbbing sound in the background."

The humming has also been driving residents of Southampton batty, prompting scientists there to search for a source, which has led to a new theory involving the male Midshipman fish that lets out a distinctive drone when searching for a mate, The Telegraph reported.

LISTEN: The "humming" sounds of male Midshipmen.

Yet despite widespread media coverage, there is scant evidence to back up the hypothesis. The reports appear to be based on comments made last week by Dr. Ben Wilson, a Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) scientist who said only that it was possible that fish were causing the throbbing sound.

"It's not beyond the realms of possibility," Dr. Wilson said, according to local publication the Daily Echo. "There are certainly 'sonic fish' in the north Atlantic and the approaches to the English Channel."

This theory is not without precedent. Researchers from the University of Washington's Marine Biology program said last year that Midshipmen fish were to blame for Seattle's humming problem. Scientists speculated that the calls of the fish in Washington State could be reverberating off of boat hulls and buildings.

But while researchers in Seattle had studied the possible link between the fish and humming, no such research has yet been conducted in England. A statement released by SAMS on Friday attempted to clarify the quotation:

Ben did suggest to the Daily Echo reporter how he might record the noises (by putting a microphone into a condom, sealing it and dropping into the water), but he hasn’t received an audio file yet. Perhaps someone would like to take up the task. Or perhaps a media organization would fly Ben and his equipment south to listen to the hum in situ. Fish might be then ruled in or out.

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