The cause behind a mysterious noise that has perplexed residents of South Tampa, Florida, could soon be revealed, with help from a crowdfunded effort to support scientific investigations into its cause.
Since as early as 2021, many residents in South Tampa have complained about the noise, which is often likened to a deep throbbing bass sound, the source of which remains to be identified.
Now, area residents have united behind a citizen action campaign to fund a scientific investigation into the strange, low-frequency sonic phenomenon.
Sara Healy is an administrator in a group of approximately 5.5k mothers in the South Tampa area, some of whom began complaining about the noise more than a year ago.
“The noise was first noted in the group in late 2022,” Healy told The Debrief in an email. “It’s always a hot topic of discussion any time it’s heard.”
Healy says that on January 13, 2024, many members reported hearing the noise louder and more intense than at any time before. Healy says she also experienced the low bass vibration associated with the noise for the first time, prompting her to create a separate community chat within the group to help bring a resolution to the strange sonic disturbance.
“I created a community chat within the Facebook group and people were still talking about it the next day, many of them saying we MUST get to the bottom of this noise,” Healy told The Debrief.
Enter Dr. James Locascio, Program Manager of Fisheries Habitat Ecology and Acoustics at the MOTE Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. In the past, Locascio has worked on using passive acoustic recording devices to study the sounds produced by fish that occur primarily while they are spawning.
“I had read the previous media coverage in which Dr. James Locascio said he believed it was drum fish mating noise,” Healy explained, “which he had written his dissertation on after studying the same mystery noise in Punta Gorda and Cape Coral in 2005.”
Intriguingly, strange sounds associated with the movement of large schools of fish have been documented for at least two centuries. One early example, first documented in 1824 and later published in Popular Science Monthly in 1883, describes a deep, musical droning that had been attributed to the movement of fish below a sailing vessel.
“Lieutenant White, of our Navy, relates that, when at the mouth of a river in Cambodia in 1824, he and the crew of his vessel were struck by hearing extraordinary sounds, like a mixture of the bass of an organ, the ringing of bells, the guttural cries of a frog, and the tones of an enormous harp, which they heard around the bottom of their vessel,” the account reads. “The interpreter said they were produced by a troop of a kind of fish.”
A similar account, published in 1870, described a reverberating noise like the song of cicadas, which was heard by passengers on board a boat navigating the Tavoy River. According to the account, one of two Burmans on the vessel “said the noise was produced by ‘fishes,’ but of what kind they did not describe.”
Upon hearing of his research into such phenomena, Healy decided on a whim to try reaching out to Locascio.
“In the interview, he said he would be happy to put recorders in the water to do the same kind of study here,” Healy told The Debrief. “I emailed him January 14 not actually expecting a reply, but he got back to me within an hour,” she said.
Within a few minutes, Healy said they were discussing “the particulars of what they study would entail” and outlined what kinds of fundraising goals could support the study.
“I launched the GoFundMe on January 17,” Healy said.
Healy said the motivation behind launching the GoFundMe campaign stemmed from the way the odd noise seemed to be increasingly disrupting life for residents in her community in South Tampa.
Sara believed that leveraging the mom group’s resources and collective interest in solving the mystery noise would make it easy to raise the necessary funds to investigate whether a similar sonic phenomenon produced by drum fish in the coastal waters nearby might be the source of the mystery.
“I was motivated to launch the GoFundMe because this is something that has been quite disruptive within the South Tampa area,” Healy explained.
Evidently, her decision to take action struck a chord with others in her community.
“We officially met our Phase One fundraising goal today,” Healy told The Debrief in an email on January 29, 2024. “I posted an update to the page with the details of what will happen next and
how that money will be used.”
With the effort to get to the bottom of what may be causing the noise now underway, she hopes the crowdfunding effort will soon reach its goals.
“Because of the geography, it can feel a little like a small town here,” Healy told The Debrief.
“I rarely go anywhere that I don’t see someone I know, so I figured with the mom group being such a big resource that was already invested in resolving the mystery noise, it would be easy to raise the money needed to determine if black drum were playing a role.”
Those interested in visiting the GoFundMe page Healy launched can find it here, and more information can also be found in a video shared online detailing the suspected role of drum fish in the production of this low-rumbling sonic phenomenon.