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Canada Can’t Figure Out Why the Ocean Floor Is Beeping

A mysterious sound has baffled residents of a far-flung hamlet

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. (University of Georgia)
smithsonian.com

Beep. Beep. Beep.

No, an alarm clock hasn’t been going off on the bottom of the ocean floor in Northern Canada—but something annoying appears to be happening down there. The mysterious sound is driving away animals, and as Olivia Solon reports for The Guardian, it’s become so concerning that the Canadian military has gotten involved.

The beeping is emanating from the Fury and Hecla Strait​, which lies 75 miles north of the islated town of Igloolik. This Inuit village is home to fewer than 2,000 residents and experiences an annual average temperature of just seven degrees Fahrenheit.

Usually, the strait's isolation is a good thing for hunters. The strait, which runs between Melville Peninsula and Baffin Island, is often blocked with ice, but in between are pockets rich with sea mammals. But recently, reports Solon, residents and visitors have complained of a mysterious pinging or beeping sound that seems to be coming from the ocean floor. Theories have included Greenpeace activists eager to thwart hunters and local miners who use sonar—but neither has turned out to be true.

Enter the military. As CBC News reports, concerns about the noises prompted the Department of National Defense to send an aircraft to investigate. But despite an hours-long acoustic search using high-tech sensors, the surveillance has turned up nothing but whales and walruses.

“We don’t have a single clue,” Paul Quassa, a member of the legislative assembly of Nunavut, the newest and most remote territory of Canada, tells the CBC’s Jimmy Thompson. Local hunters tell Thompson that the sounds have made whales, seals and other marine mammals scarce in an area usually known for its abundance of creatures. Given the animals’ sensitivity to and reliance on sound—much marine life uses sound to navigate and communicate—it’s no wonder that a sound that can be heard from the ocean floor is scaring them away.

For now, the origin of the pinging still remains a mystery. But this isn't the first time confounding sounds have come from the sea floor. In 2014, a weird underwater quacking first detected by submarines 50 years prior was finally identified as noises from Antarctic minke whales.

It's unclear if 50 years of quacking or beeping is more annoying. But hopefully, the mystery will soon be solved long before Igloolik has a chance to find out.

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