Something May Be Fishy About Hum Keeping Bay Ridge Residents Awake
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
HMMMM. This mysterious sound in the waters off Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, has baffled residents for months. A low pitched vibration known simply as the “Bay Ridge Hum” heard near the shore next to the Verrazano Bridge has left some locals not only scratching their heads in frustration but deprived of sleep, too.
While several hypotheses as to the cause – passing trains, treatment plants, even UFOs – have been floated, so to speak, one new hunch is that fish may cause it.
“Everyone is just dying to find out what is making that noise,” the district manager of Brooklyn Community Board No.10, which includes Bay Ridge, Josephine Beckmann, said. “We have been getting calls since last spring.”
“I heard it two nights in a row at about 3 a.m.,” Ridge resident Anissa Malloy said. “My kid woke me up at 3 a.m. yelling and screaming, after I quieted him down and attempted to go back to sleep. … It’s like a very low-pitched vibration. I don’t know what to compare it to.”
Another Bay Ridge resident, Concetta Butera, said it was in April 2005 that he “noticed this awful noise.”
As complaints mounted, local officials attempted to discover the source of the noise that was keeping residents up at night. Even the Department of Environmental Protection tried to solve the mystery, but managed only to eliminate obvious suspects like the Owls Head Water Treatment Facility and a local park that some thought may have been the culprit.
The fishermen at Brooklyn’s Pier 69 told local officials that they were convinced that it was coming from idling boats, but those who had heard the noise were quick to dispel that notion.
But mysterious humming is not without precedent. In the early 1980s a mysterious humming noise kept residents of Sausalito, Calif., near the Golden Gate Bridge, hiding their heads under their pillows for sleepless nights during the summer.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a scientific investigation was begun, resulting in a search assisted by an acoustics consulting company. Hydrophonic recordings were taken and spectrum analysis eliminated machinery as the source of the humming.
Finally, in August 1985, fish biologists concluded the sound was coming from noisy humming male toadfish.
Could the toadfish also be humming in Bay Ridge? “It is possible that it could be this fish,” said a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, Andrew Bass. He said believes the sound could be coming from an east coast version of the underwater melody-maker called “Opsanus Tau,” the oyster toadfish.
The oyster toadfish has been described as “homely” for its large protruding eyes, broad mouth, and flesh-like whiskers surrounding a short snout. To attract a mate, it produces a vocalization – some call it a “foghorn” sound – to attract females during spawning.
Sausalito, Calif., and Bay Ridge are also both located near large bridges that some residents believe may further amplify the noise.
The toadfish’s spawning season extends from April to October, which corresponds to the time when residents in Bay Ridge have reported hearing the mysterious noise. The male locates a private nesting area often using old tin cans or decayed wood lying on the bay bottom and then calls out in his low, mournful “foghorn” to spawning females. A female swims into the nest and lays large, adhesive eggs upside-down in the nest, then swims away.
A few who have heard the so-called “Bay Ridge Hum” listened to a recording of the Oyster Toadfish prepared by Mr. Bass and said they believed it was the same noise.
Ms. Butera said, “Yes, I would say that this was the noise. I am hearing those fish. I am hearing thousands of them.”
Ms. Malloy listened to the recording and concurred, “I think the fish are making the noise.”
Ms. Beckmann said she also plans on notifying the DEP about the new theory. In the near future Mr. Bass plans on recording the sound himself and testing it for authenticity.
Out west, Sausalito residents have celebrated their aquatic neighbors. The village of Sausalito holds a festival on annually the third Tuesday in June when the humming fish begin their annual ritual.
If the mystery is solved, and the fish theory is more than just a fish tale, would Bay Ridge sponsor a yearly festival to celebrate those submerged, annoying noisemakers? Ms. Beckmann said, “Bay Ridge is always up for a festival.”