Mysterious Bass Sounds Irking Florida Residents Might Just Be Fish Mating Loudly

The Tampa community raised money to fund an investigation, and now, a local scientist will install underwater microphones to look for the source of the racket

Striped fish with gray scales
One possible explanation for the low-frequency noises? Mating black drum fish. Will Parson / Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

A strange noise is keeping Tampa, Florida, residents up at night. The thrumming is so loud that, at times, it sends tremors through their homes.

Now, a local scientist has come up with one possible explanation for the disruption: mating fish. As it turns out, residents might be eavesdropping on black drum fish as they reproduce, reports Fox 13’s Jordan Bowen. The animals can produce low frequency drumming sounds by flexing their muscles against their swim bladder.

Black drum fish tend to mate—and fill the sea with their amorous racket—on winter nights, which might explain the uptick in noise residents hear around this time of year.

Popular among anglers, black drum fish (Pogonias cromis) can grow more than 5.5 feet long. They have large gray or black scales and barbels protruding from their lower jaws, and they chow down on fish, shellfish, crabs, shrimp, mussels and various invertebrates with their powerful teeth. The bottom-dwellers typically inhabit lagoons, river mouths and bays, though they also live offshore.

Tampa’s mysterious sounds date back to at least 2021. Since then, residents have come up with a variety of theories for the persistent hum—maybe it stems from a nearby Air Force base, or maybe a party boat has been blasting a bass beat with impressive speakers. They also wondered if construction operations were to blame.

Over time, however, community members got so fed up with the incessant thrumming that they decided to do something about it. South Tampa resident Sara Healy is now leading the charge to figure out where the sounds are coming from. She’s raising money on GoFundMe to support an investigation led by scientist James Locascio, the program manager for fisheries habitat ecology and acoustics at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida.

Now that residents have raised enough cash—$2,500 to start—Locascio has agreed to place microphones underwater for two months to see what he can find out. The group met its fundraising goal earlier this week, and Locascio is now searching for potential sites to install the recorders.

Locascio is the leading proponent of the black drum fish theory, based on past research he conducted for his dissertation nearly two decades ago in southwest Florida.

“They used to call it the Punta Gorda growl in the 1970s,” he tells WFTS’s Erik Waxler. “So, down there, it’s been going on or known about for a long time.”

What's the mysterious sound in Tampa Bay?

It’s unusual for underwater sounds to travel through the air. But the black drum fish noises could be making their way to people’s homes via tunnels or the ground, reports the Washington Post’s Kyle Melnick. It’s also possible the black drum fish population in Tampa Bay has ballooned recently, for some unknown reason.

“It’s a low frequency sound, and so they travel much better and go farther distances, and they go through dissimilar media more efficiently,” Locascio tells Fox 13.

If it turns out that fish are to blame for all the sleepless nights, residents will likely have little choice but to don earplugs, hunker down and wait out the rest of the mating season.

“Well, it’s nature,” Healy says to the Washington Post. “There’s nothing to be done.”

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