What’s that mysterious noise in South Tampa? Researcher thinks he has answer

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — It’s a noise heard all over South Tampa — a faint, low-pitched sound that is more pronounced on some nights than others, and a sound that has proven difficult to track to its source.

Now, some people are trying to find out what’s causing the noise and where it’s coming from.

“When it’s active, everybody hears it,” said Sara Healy, an administrator of a group talking about the noise.

Several thousand people are a part of the group because it can be heard in so many places.

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“All over the peninsula,” Healy said. “We’ve had reports from the Westshore area down to Ballast Point, from Davis Island down to Port Tampa.”

Healy has heard some pretty wild guesses about what’s causing it.

“Earlier in January, people were saying, oh we saw a party barge off of Ballast Point and that’s what was causing this noise,” she said. “People have speculated secret operations at MacDill. Everything as crazy as aliens.”

Others believe the noise is being caused by fish.

Healy’s group has started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for a scientific study to find out if the noise is being caused by fish — specifically the Black Drum Fish.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“Drums are known for the ability to produce sound. That’s why they’re named Drum,” said Dr. James Locascio, who did a graduate-level study of the Black Drum Fish and a similar noise event in Southwest Florida.

“We were just able to put recorders in the water, nearby houses that had experienced this problem routinely,” Locascio said.

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His work established the fish were causing a noise that was heard in homes in that area.

“The phenomenon seems similar to me, familiar to me, and so I suggested we could attempt a similar project to try and help understand the source of the sound,” Locascio said.

He said this particular fish produces a sound that can be heard for miles.

“Drums have a specialized muscle called a sonic muscle that is flexed against the swim bladder and produces a sound,” he said. “So, each species makes a unique sound. In the case of the Black Drum, they produce a sound who’s fundamental frequency is 100 hertz, but then it has harmonics that occur at every hundred hertz.”

He’s looking for help from homeowners to allow him to place specialized recording equipment to pick up the sounds of the fish.

“We could really use some waterfront properties that would like to participate to put a recorder on their dock and I have my recorders ready to go,” Locascio said.

To make things even more complicated, he said the sound can be carried through storm water sewers for miles, which explains why people inland can hear it.

“Lower frequencies travel further, with less energy loss as they do, and these fish are essentially behaving as a subwoofer,” Locascio said.

Healy said she believes the fish may be causing the sound, but she says the answer for the cause is more complicated.

“I think it’s either the fish or it’s party noise, or it’s a combination of those,” she said.

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