Unexplained sounds

Some folk will tell you about the latest music or band you need to hear, but Ernest favours a different type of sound. The world may be filled with monitoring and recording devices, but not everything that’s picked up has an obvious explanation. James Burt investigates some of our favourite puzzling noises. 

Illustration by Ruth Allen

Illustration by Ruth Allen


First detected in 1997, the bloop is a low-frequency noise occurring at a location very close to HP Lovecraft’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh, in the south Pacific. It is thought to have come from an ice-quake, since the noise is too loud for a biological explanation.That is, at least, any known biological explanation. 


Also known as mistpouffers, skyquakes are similar in sound to cannons or thunder, with incidents mostly occurring near rivers and coastlines. One explanation is they are sonic booms – but this doesn’t explain accounts going back to the 1800s. According to Native Americans, the sounds are the Great Spirit working on the world. 

Taos hum

First recorded in Taos, New Mexico, similar low frequency hums have been experienced worldwide since the 1970s, suggesting they are a side-effect of the modern world. Some people have blamed secret military communications devices,others a type of fish. A leading theory is that the hums are caused by ‘spontaneous otoacoustic emissions’, the noise of the hearer’s own inner ears.


Quackers were named after the Russian onomatopoeia for a frog’s sound. First detected by Russian submarines during the Cold War, no objects appeared on the sonar and the source moved too fast to be man-made. An unknown type of animal is one explanation, as are Unidentified Submersible Objects, the underwater equivalent of UFOs.

The 52-hertz whale

The ‘Loneliest Whale’ sings a song at a higher pitch than any other.The call is always heard alone and some say it prevents the creature ever finding companionship, leaving it to wander the Pacific Ocean alone. It has inspired a Kickstarter-funded investigation as well as Kathryn Roberts’ folk song 52-hertz. The sound has not been recorded since 2004, which may mean a happy ending. 

James Burt is a computer programmer who spends his spare time researching strange things. He is currently working on a book about the history of the vindaloo. orbific.com

This features in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 6
Add To Cart