It’s not often that a tale of a monstrous beast crosses paths with the domain of the U.S. government. That, however, is precisely what happened when it came to the matter of a mysterious creature – or, rather, an alleged mysterious creature – said to have surfaced in the 1990s. It quickly became the subject of U.S. Navy interest and provoked images of H.P. Lovecraft’s legendary creation, Cthulhu. To fully understand the controversy, it’s necessary to go back in time to the 1960s, when the Cold War was still in full force. It was in that decade that the Navy established a top secret program known as SOSUS. It stood for Sound Surveillance System. Essentially, it was a vast network of underwater microphones that spanned much of the planet and which were designed to monitor for Russian submarines – and particularly so those that were equipped with atomic weapons. Today, the Cold War is over. The world, however, is still a dangerous place. Maybe even more so than back in the old days when we had only one enemy to worry about: the Soviets. As a result, the SOSUS detectors still exist, picking up on sound waves in what is termed the Deep Sound Channel.
It’s not just Russian (and, today, Chinese) subs that the U.S. military has recorded on its SOSUS equipment. Ships, earth-tremors, and even whales have been detected by the highly sophisticated technology. It’s technology that has been significantly improved upon since the old days and which is now overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is a section of the government’s Department of Commerce. All of which brings us to a certain, deeply puzzling, event that occurred in 1997. That was the year in which NOAA recorded a very weird, and very large, “something” in the waters of the South Pacific Ocean, west of South America’s most southern tip. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at the work of NOAA in their own words:
“NOAA provides timely and reliable information based on sound science to communities and businesses every day. From daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings, and climate monitoring to fisheries management, coastal restoration and supporting marine commerce, Americans rely on NOAA…The National Ocean Service provides data, tools, and services that support coastal economies and their contribution to the national economy. NOS is dedicated to advancing the following priorities: Ships move $1.5 trillion worth of products in and out of U.S. ports every year. Every ship moving in and out of U.S. ports relies on navigation charts and water level information that NOS alone provides. All mapping, charting, and transportation activities and infrastructure are founded on a reliable, accurate national coordinate system. NOS is solely responsible for maintaining that system, which provides more than $2.4 billion in potential annual benefits to the U.S. economy. Businesses in the maritime community rely on NOS for a range of decisions, from how much cargo to load to choosing the safest and most efficient route between two points. They use NOS data, tools, and services to plan seasonally for ship schedules to service global trade more safely and efficiently as significantly larger vessels transit through U.S. ports as a result of the Panama Canal expansion.”
All of which brings us to Bloop. Whatever “it” was, it certainly caught the attention of NOAA and the military, who nicknamed the anomaly “Bloop.” Whatever Bloop was, he, she or it was of a certain amplitude to be picked up on tracking equipment more than 5,000 kilometers from where its movements were recorded. More intriguing, within both NOAA and the Navy there were those who suspected the signature was suggestive of Bloop being a massive, unknown animal, such as a squid of unparalleled proportions. One might even be justified in saying something akin to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu or the legendary Kraken. Needless to say, the controversy surrounding Bloop attracted a great deal of interest. When the media latched onto the story, NOAA confirmed that this was far from being the first occasion upon which such anomalies – which may well have been giant, unknown animals – had been detected in the world’s oceans. Each and every one of them had been given specific names, including Whistle, Upsweep, Train, and Slowdown.
NOAA’s view on the nature of Bloop goes as follows: “In 1997, researchers listening for underwater volcanic activity in the southern Pacific recorded a strange, powerful, and extremely loud sound. Using hydrophones, or underwater microphones, that were placed more than 3,219 kilometers apart across the Pacific, they recorded numerous instances of the noise, which was unlike anything they had heard before. Not only was it loud, the sound had a unique characteristic that came to be known as ‘the Bloop.’ Scientists from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) were eager to discover the sound’s origin, but with about 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, theories abounded. Was the Bloop from secret underwater military exercises, ship engines, fishing boat winches, giant squids, whales, or a some sea creature unknown to science?” That was the big question. The story continues, as NOAA demonstrates:
“As the years passed, PMEL researchers continued to deploy hydrophones ever closer to Antarctica in an ongoing effort to study the sounds of sea floor volcanoes and earthquakes. It was there, on Earth’s lonely southernmost land mass, that they finally discovered the source of those thunderous rumbles from the deep in 2005. The Bloop was the sound of an icequake – an iceberg cracking and breaking away from an Antarctic glacier! With global warming, more and more icequakes occur annually, breaking off glaciers, cracking and eventually melting into the ocean. PMEL’s Acoustics Program develops unique acoustics tools and technologies to acquire long-term data sets of the global ocean acoustics environment, and to identify and assess acoustic impacts from human activities and natural processes on the marine environment.”
A massive, Cthulu-like monster or just the cracking of an iceberg? The choice is yours. But, I’m sure all of us would love it to be the former, rather than the latter!