The Bloop: It came from the deep

In 1997, listening stations across the Pacific picked up an extremely loud and strange sound. They named it the Bloop.

What the sound looked like in picture format. Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Originally, these listening stations were positioned to detect underwater volcanoes along the coast of South America. Underwater microphones, or hydrophones, are useful in this case, because they are stationed along the seabed.

At this depth, sound is pushed back down instead of being scattered like it would up here on land. This means that hydrophones can capture sounds that have traveled for thousands of kilometers, making it easier to detect underwater volcanic activity.

Each soundwave these hydrophones pick up is unique. You can use characteristics of the sound to identify their origin. For example, a volcano erupting would be a low frequency rumble with higher pitched pops scattered within. On the other hand, whales tend to make high pitched sounds.

Why was the Bloop so interesting?

Most organic sounds don’t tend to be very loud. However, the Bloop was one of the loudest sounds ever picked up by a hydrophone. In fact, it was so loud that every listening station 5,000 km apart picked it up.

Scientists had no idea what was making the noise except that it was not man-made. The Bloop was released to the public, and here is where communication broke down. Everyone wanted to know what weird deep-sea wonder was making the sound.

In turn, researchers revealed that the Bloop was organic in nature. While this might be accurate to say in a scientific perspective, the public in general did not have the same understanding of the word ‘organic’. To scientists, organic meant natural, but to the general public, organic meant animal.

When it was found out that the Bloop was picked up around 1,500 kms away from R’yleh, horror fans went wild. Why is this of significance? Well, in HP Lovecraft’s book ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, R’yleh was the area in which eldritch horror Cthulhu first emerged.

What I imagine people were thinking of. Photo by Pierre Denys de Montfort

The theories.

Needless to say, many different theories began cropping up.

Theory #1: The sound was a warning from Cthulhu who was about to awaken and begin his rampage. This theory is easily debunked, Cthulhu is a fictional creature and does not actually exist. (Sorry Cthulhu fans)

Theory #2: The sound came from a whale, or group of whales.

This theory is a little more believable, the sound does seem like it could be from an animal. However, there are two problems.

1: No whale, or group of whales, has ever made vocalizations loud enough for a string of stations 1,500km apart to pick up simultaneously. Animals just aren’t that loud.

2: Although the Bloop does make a high-pitched sound, the recording released to the public was sped up 16 times. If you listen to the original recording, you can hear that it is actually a low-pitched rumbling. Much like thunder.

Theory #3: It was an earthquake.

The truth at last!

10 years after the Bloop was picked up, the mystery was solved. The low frequency sounds were produced by an ice shelf cracking as it prepared to break off from Antartica. An icequake. Turns out, that was what scientists thought it was all along.

An ice shelf falling into the ocean. Photo by the National Parks Service

I guess there are lessons we can learn from this: One, choose your words carefully, people might misinterpret what you’re saying and run with it. Two, always double check whether sound recordings are playing at their original speed. Three, scientists are probably laughing at us right now for one weird misconception or other.

Click here for more interesting and mysterious sounds from the depths of the ocean. Read this article, or listen to this podcast for another take on this story.

4 Responses to “The Bloop: It came from the deep”

  1. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! I would have absolutely loved to have found out that it was some giant sea monster making the noise, maybe not Cthulhu though. But it is what it is. And the fact that it was ice making such a loud noise is impressive nonetheless.

  2. Syafiqah Zulkefli says:

    The bloop does sound super creepy, although I find that the original version is so much more creepier because it is just one long rumble. I’ll admit. I kinda wanted it to be some mysterious creature from the deep too, but the fact that the sound of ice cracking traveled from Antarctica all the way to South America is impressive as.

  3. Jett Janetzki says:

    Nice read!! I did almost wish the sound was made by some scary animal of the deep! Giant squid? But an icequake is cool too!

  4. Ashlen Campbell says:

    I remember first hearing the bloop and being so creeped out! The conspiracy theorists probably weren’t happy with the iceberg answer, but it’s amazing that anything can make a sound that loud!