Birds hear it. Bears hear it. Bowhead whales and bearded seals hear it too. ‘It’ is a mysterious pinging sound coming from the sea floor in the Arctic and its unknown cause is baffling the Canadian military and frustrating hunters who blame it for driving away their prey. What’s behind this Arctic earache?
The Department of National Defence has been informed of the strange noises emanating in the Fury and Hecla Strait area, and the Canadian Armed Forces are taking the appropriate steps to actively investigate the situation.
Ground zero for the strange sound that some call a ‘ping’ and others a ‘hum’ or 'beep' is the village of Igloolik, Nunavut, on the Foxe Basin north of Hudson Bay between Baffin Island and the Melville Peninsula. The cold waters there are perfect for the growth of phytoplankton and host the northern migration of bowhead whales. Well, it did until the pinging started in early summer.
That's one of the major hunting areas in the summer and winter because it's a polynya (area of open water surrounded by ice that attracts sea mammals). And this time around, this summer, there were hardly any. And this became a suspicious thing.
Paul Quassa, a member of the Nunavut legislative assembly, gave this status at a meeting last month where he described the noise as “emanating from the sea floor.” It’s loud enough to be heard through the hulls of boats passing through the strait and locals say it’s rare to find anyone who hasn’t heard it.
If “Canadian hum” sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the Windsor hum, another mysterious noise heard in Windsor, Ontario. That one is blamed on an American steel plant across the Detroit River on Zug Island. Of course, the steel company denies responsibility and results of government studies have remained hidden from the public.
Igloolik residents are hoping the same thing doesn’t happen to their hum that some are blaming on Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, which has been known to ping the waters with sonar to conduct surveys. Of course, it denies doing any sonar surveys coinciding with the hums. That is also the case with other corporate entities in the area that might be doing construction, blasting mines or performing other activities that could create underwater sounds from the sea bed.
Those defending industrial operations in the area are blaming Greenpeace for creating mysterious sounds to drive away animals and disrupt seal hunts, something it has fought since the 1970s. Greenpeace denies this.
Then there’s the Canadian military itself (or possibly another country’s military) which have sent submarines through the strait. While it’s improbable that sub sonar can be heard by humans on shore or in boats, it can be heard by marine animals. The area was also once part of the now-defunct (allegedly?) Distant Early Warning (dew) Line, a chain of radar stations set up during the Cold War to detect incoming Soviet bombers. The military is investigating itself – we know how that usually turns out.
That leaves … aliens? George Qulaut, another assembly member, says he’s almost deaf but he can still hear the complaints of his constituents who want to know what the hum is. They don’t like the answer they’re getting and neither does he.
We don't have a single clue.
Really? These mysterious hums are being heard all over the world. Governments, industries and militaries point their fingers while humans put theirs in their ears. Unfortunately, most animals don’t have fingers. If they did, we know what they’d be doing with one of them.
What is causing these mysterious hums?