West Seattle’s now-famous ‘Hum’: Apparently NOT a fish’s fault

September 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm | In West Seattle news | 58 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

When last we checked in on “The Hum,” after a spate of complaints around Labor Day weekend followed mostly by quietude except for news-media outlets around the region/country/world picking up on it (seriously!), the city had started to investigate, while two researchers were heading out to the Duwamish River to see if the midshipman fish might be to blame (as reported by KING 5 last Thursday night).

So, is it the fish’s fault?

Says the lead researcher, Joseph Sisneros from the University of Washington, who went out that night with a graduate student to investigate:

No.

We contacted him today to follow up on what they had done and found:

We placed a hydrophone (underwater microphone) in the Duwamish river (eastside of West Seattle), Alki Beach (northside of West Seattle in Elliott Bay) and near Lincoln Park (west side of West Seattle in Puget Sound). We did not hear any calls that night; we were out until about 11:30 pm. Thus, we have no evidence or data that the midshipman is present in West Seattle waters right now.

We were very interested that night in discovering new nest sites for these fish to study close to home/university. The mating season for the midshipman is typically late spring to summer. September is rather late in the summer but not necessary unheard of for the midshipman mate call to be heard, since in California, midshipman nests have been found sub-tidally during the fall months. For your information, the midshipman fish is a common fish found from Alaska to southern California. Very abundant on the west of the US.

After hearing about the strange reports of the hum in West Seattle, we were intrigued that perhaps the midshipman might be heard near shore if the calls were possibly transmitted via tanker or boat hulls. There was a famous story from Sausalito, CA in the 1980s when the mating calls of midshipman were heard to resonate through the houseboat hulls and drove the resident community crazy. There were all kinds of theories back then what the strange hum could be. Later the local fish biologist determined it was the midshipman’s mating call that was the source of the hum.

With that said, it would be impossible for the resonating hum to be transmitted very far inland into West Seattle, especially to places in the center of West Seattle where some of the “hums” have been reported on the West Seattle Blog! My guess is the sounds that are being heard are man-made.

So then, what are/were they? We checked back today with Bryan Stevens, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, which has jurisdiction over noise complaints/investigations. His update:

No new information at this point. Staff have been looking over possible construction projects in the area, but haven’t found anything that would have occurred in that vicinity or during the noted timeframe. Usually we hear from someone that can narrow it down to at least a couple blocks, but the comments we’ve received up to this point have been much more broad. That coupled with the limited duration of the noise (once a month maybe) will make this a difficult one to resolve.

So if you hear it again – note as much descriptive information as you can, record it if you can, and contact the city’s noise inspectors: (206) 684-7843 or (206) 615-1760.

58 Comments

  1. Duh…..

    Comment by DirtyCoyote — 4:36 pm September 11, 2012 #

  2. It’s a cloaked extraterrestrial craft that is only audible during low level reconnaissance on the progress of the thousands of human occupied mixed use domiciles be erected on seemingly every West Seattle corner.

    Comment by DTK — 4:54 pm September 11, 2012 #

  3. From reading people’s responses it certainly seems the “hum” is more frequent than “once a month”. I suppose a recording, date/time, duration, location and weather would all be good to report.

    Comment by Heather — 5:03 pm September 11, 2012 #

  4. What ever happened to the reports a few months back about the sporadic booms? I reported one, but I never heard if anyone figured out what they were.

    Comment by EN — 5:06 pm September 11, 2012 #

  5. If the sound continues and the origin remains a mystery, I think the city may already have the technolgy to track it down.

    I seem to remember a news story from earlier this year saying the city or police department was a testing a system intending to pinpoint the location of suspected gun fire in certain neighborhoods. It included setting up a network of recording devices that were synced to record the timing of the sudden sound of gun fire and then triangulate the recordings to identify the location and origin of the sound.

    I realize the hum is not the same as a gun shot, but if it has an audible start and stop to it, it would seem the technolgy could be used in this situation as well.

    Just a thought anyway.

    Comment by s — 5:13 pm September 11, 2012 #

  6. What about the tunnel?

    Comment by a — 5:28 pm September 11, 2012 #

  7. I live near Discovery Park in Magnolia and have been trying to track down the origins of a hum I’ve been hearing off and on for about a year now. It sounds similar to the recordings I’ve heard of the West Seattle hum but I wouldn’t say it’s a dead ringer at all. Ours tend to oscillate in and out every 5 or 10 seconds.

    Anyway, one thing I found during my research is the concept of temperature inversion and what it can do to sound waves: https://sites.google.com/site/kundaparkneighbours/news-about-noise

    My best guess is that our hum is originating at the water treatment facility in Discovery Park and only on days when there is a temperature inversion do its sound waves rise up through the park and then bounce back down onto us. The same could be happening to West Seattle, but with a different source.

    The strange thing with our hum is that it gets a bit louder as you approach the treatment facility but then if you go right down to it, you can’t hear it anymore. I think it might be because the facility has other sounds it emits which mask the hum (those sounds are not carried as far as the hum sounds).

    Anyways, more data points for you.

    Comment by Mike D. — 6:00 pm September 11, 2012 #

  8. I had a strange thought the other day. The hum reminded me of a water pump that is going bad or running dry. Could any of the area above ground water towers maybe be having this issue? The water within the storage would resonate the noise and amplify it like a transmitting source. I dunno… just a theory.

    Comment by Jolie — 6:12 pm September 11, 2012 #

  9. No friends, it’s a new species of Flying Fish they just discover in Seattle. They migrate from country to country to make noise and get people wondering “what are those weird sound coming from the ground or from the sky”, once they finish their job annoying humans, they journey to another place.

    I’ve heard a lot of stupid explanations for weird noises but this one must be on the first step of all crazy explanations…

    Next time there will be a swarm of earthquakes in California I suppose they will say that it’s a colony of lobster masturbating in the depth of San Francisco Bay… but it’s just a guess.

    Comment by Joel — 6:19 pm September 11, 2012 #

  10. I’m curious if anyone (HAM, electronics tech/engineer, etc) has thought to do a frequency or spectrum analysis.
    It’d be interesting to find that the incidents occur at the same as electronic warfare testing on Boeing Field or sonar tests from Keyport or Bremerton.

    Comment by David — 6:20 pm September 11, 2012 #

  11. Oh Lord! Get off the couch, drive down to the cement plant and stop speculating about fish and aliens. It’s so clear when sitting in their entranceway it’s hard to think it could be anyplace else.

    Comment by 2 Much Whine — 7:43 pm September 11, 2012 #

  12. What people are hearing is the sound that is made from an automatic air release valve placed at the high point of the local water system. The valves are designed to release air trapped in the water main but keep the water in. These automatic air release valves are connected to an above ground 2″ steel pipe. When air is slowly released by the valve, it makes the sound and resonates through the above ground pipe – kind of like a big trumpet. I bet a lot of air got trapped the the system last August when there was a massive water main break in the SoDo area – this sound is proof that the air is still finding it’s way out. :)

    The 2″ above ground pipes are almost always painted blue and are typically located a few feet behind a sidewalk.

    Somebody needs to ask the Seattle PUD where the nearest “Air Vac” is located and wait for the trapped air to be released – then they’ll find the source of the noise.

    Techno Viking

    Comment by Techno Viking — 7:44 pm September 11, 2012 #

  13. Ultra low frequency may be broadcast over any transmission device. Be it a sub carrier on an electric transmission line or into an HD television. Consider the potential for the flickering of the mercury filled, poison corkscrew over your head to alter physiology and you may begin to awaken to reality. Now drink your floride, take your vaccine and go back to sleep.

    Comment by Calvin — 8:05 pm September 11, 2012 #

  14. I remember living in west Seattle in the 70′s,and hearing it way back then!It’s incredible no one has said anything untill now.

    Comment by Dan — 9:23 pm September 11, 2012 #

  15. Ley lines guiding in uber-alternate reality beings to save us from ourselves. Never mind the fish theory.

    Comment by Bill Bacon — 9:32 pm September 11, 2012 #

  16. Or, some sort of death ray testing at the Black Box upstream on the Duwumish River? They do R & D on all sorts of Popular Mechanics projects there.

    Comment by Bill Bacon — 9:35 pm September 11, 2012 #

  17. Update on the hum I mentioned above: it’s weighing in at 240hz. This leads me to believe it’s electrical as apparently most hums which are in multiples of 60hz are electrical in nature. Has anyone measured the frequency of the West Seattle variation? You can do it with the Frequency Counter iPhone app.

    Comment by Mike D. — 9:36 pm September 11, 2012 #

  18. All of these locations are “line of sight” from Sea-Tac airport.

    Comment by down the road — 9:42 pm September 11, 2012 #

  19. Clearly, it’s dynamo hum.

    Comment by Diner — 10:06 pm September 11, 2012 #

  20. I thought the fish theory was a bit of a stretch from the start. Although I secretly hoped it was true.

    I don’t hear the hum. I never experienced the hum. Is it still as loud and disruptive as Labor Day weekend? There seemed to be a large number of people who heard the hum over a significant area during a specific time. I call that consensus. Is there the same consensus now? Or has it become spotty?

    Oh, yeah, also, aliens.

    Comment by shed22 — 10:24 pm September 11, 2012 #

  21. It seemed so obviously mechanical in nature, but I don’t know enough about the variations in sound that can occur with temperature and elevation. Neither did Occam.

    Comment by hmmm — 10:54 pm September 11, 2012 #

  22. Grinding tectonic plates in Puget Sound? Similar sounds reported in other countries prior to earthquakes.

    Comment by Bee — 11:27 pm September 11, 2012 #

  23. this isn’t a new thing and it’s not only happening in west Seattle. I’ve heard this same noise late at night in Tacoma and reports of this noise are happening all over. I don’t think there’s really any logical explanation…at least not one that anyone will believe. no damn fish is making that noise that’s for sure. maybe something in the atmosphere or even below our own feet, who knows. hopefully someone can come up with some answers soon.

    http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/what-are-the-strange-noises-in-the-sky-being-heard-all-over-the-world

    Comment by Sam — 11:31 pm September 11, 2012 #

  24. Right, others have reported this for years….http://mynorthwest.com/?nid=11&sid=310311. Yet, no one can explain it. Curious.

    Comment by Bee — 11:34 pm September 11, 2012 #

  25. That just seemed like the most ridiculous explanation (the fish theory) I have ever heard. After listening to the iphone recording there was no way a fish could be that loud. I bet ‘some’ people (homeland security) know what it is but are not saying. I’m questioning if they will ever figure it out.

    Comment by fishy — 11:52 pm September 11, 2012 #

  26. Another fish story? No; just the facts. First, the noise can be heard year round; not just when fish are frisky. The hum has bugged us and ruined sleep for years. Actually, we finally got up early one morning and spent about two hours going from spot to spot along the Duwamish, tracking the noise to its source, the Vevalia glass recycle company at 5801 E Marginal Way, just north of first south bridge.I believe it to be figured out.

    Comment by Carmine — 6:51 am September 12, 2012 #

  27. I seem to recall older reports of this off and on though out my 10 yrs in Seattle, mostly West Seattle. I think its mechanical, propulsion or some kind of venting. The late hour of the noise is what has be curious. Shouldn’t there be some kind of record of anything going on making a sound like that in the middle of the night? Well if its a legit function anyway.

    Comment by cj — 7:12 am September 12, 2012 #

  28. Have they given any suggestions on what details we should record if we hear it again? Is there any advice on how we could better pin down the direction that it is coming from?
    .
    An old trick for finding the direction of a sound is to cup your hands behind your ears and then turn your body. Would this work for this low frequency noise?

    Comment by Jesse — 8:12 am September 12, 2012 #

  29. I think this is plan by longtime West Seattle residents to keep people from moving to our fair part of the city. Let’s keep traffic down… but what about property values?! It’s a conspiracy!

    FWIW, I consider myself a pretty light sleeper and have never heard the sound in the Upper Alki area.

    Comment by Trevor — 8:33 am September 12, 2012 #

  30. It is heard only at night because during the day there are many other sounds going on at the same time — traffic primarily. I bet it is any or all of the above guesses — cement factory, water treatment plant, valves releasing stuff, street cleaners/sweepers, street lights humming, yadda yadda (I too was doubtful about the fish theory, as someone else so brilliantly put it… duh.) Maybe it is the Fremont troll snoring?

    Comment by juniperberry — 9:03 am September 12, 2012 #

  31. I am not technically able to do this, but maybe by tossing the idea out there, someone here can grab it and run with it.

    It seems to me like a web map and mobile phone app that would allow people to report time and location of the sound, could gather several months of data, and allow residents and city employees to analyze the data for possible sources. I think Google allows for the creation of maps like this, and maybe they automatically “publish” a web version if you ask for it. I don’t know – but it seems like the first big step in tracking this annoyance down is more data, and data that’s accessible to “all” with web access. Perhaps this blog would allow for links to the app/map.

    While I agree that DPD is the place that manages noise complaints – I would also suggest chatting with some of the local linemen and other utility front line employees… they may have some clues about this too.

    Comment by Catherine — 9:07 am September 12, 2012 #

  32. I agree with “Down the Road”. The areas reporting having heard the sound are near both Boeing Field an Sea-Tac. Has anyone contacted Boeing about test flights? It’s the most logical explanation for the range is areas affected.

    Comment by K2 — 9:28 am September 12, 2012 #

  33. We had a map in previous stories, set up by a reader. I will move it over to this one when I get a chance – am in the middle of several other stories. Please follow the links to previous coverage and you’ll see it. It is rather diffuse, though, because this has been so widespread.

    Comment by WSB — 9:38 am September 12, 2012 #

  34. How many years has it been since the earth’s axis was last greased?

    Actually, I can remember hearing something similar when I lived on the beach, over 20 years ago. Our theory was that when it’s quiet, calm, and all conditions are just right, the harmonic droning of ships’ driveshafts/props can be heard for miles.

    Comment by uncle k — 10:49 am September 12, 2012 #

  35. Is it a coincidence that this same phenomena occured in the San Francisco area some years ago? That sound turned out to be testing from the submarines based near Vallejo.

    Comment by Michael — 10:58 am September 12, 2012 #

  36. Hhmmmmmmmm, I have yet to hear the hum, but my father used to complain about a hum he could hear back in the seventies on pigeon point, I was up in the cascades a few years back digging crystals when I suddenly heard a very load humming and the bank I was digging in collapsed very scarey moment. I am wondering if the sound is related to all of the electronics being used these days.

    Comment by Cindertang — 11:35 am September 12, 2012 #

  37. I have a recording of the sound I took from my iPhone right in front the business that is the culprit. Here is the video/audio recording with some notes:
    http://soularensemble.com/?page_id=37

    Brian

    Comment by hmmm — 2:48 pm September 12, 2012 #

  38. @ uncle k,

    This:
    “Our theory was that when it’s quiet, calm, and all conditions are just right, the harmonic droning of ships’ driveshafts/props can be heard for miles.”
    Look out on the water when you hear it; I often do and find that it is a large container ship, sometimes miles away at the other end of the (Puget) Sound!
    Their engines and propulsion systems are huge.

    Comment by bolo — 6:36 pm September 12, 2012 #

  39. It’s caused by a pump. Either water or sewer. Water pumps often run at night. The noise is transmitted through the underground pipelines for long distances.

    Comment by Kevin — 9:29 pm September 12, 2012 #

  40. Kevin, OMG its NOT caused by a pump! listen to the audio on this video… http://soularensemble.com/?page_id=37

    Comment by hmmm — 11:09 pm September 12, 2012 #

  41. Has anyone considered that there is a big bore machine tunneling underground for the new tunnel? By itself, it’s not that loud, except that it creates percussive “quakes” that may be resonating off the sea bed and are bring transmitted through the hulls of container vessels.

    Comment by carrrion — 5:20 pm September 13, 2012 #

  42. huh? I thought the tunnel boring machine was still being manufactured in (?) Japan. won’t be here for a while

    Comment by sam-c — 8:17 pm September 13, 2012 #

  43. Tunnel boring will not begin till next year. Right now, they’re digging the “launch pit” with fairly conventional heavy equipment.

    Comment by WSB — 8:21 pm September 13, 2012 #

  44. Publicity good! No more noise since story first broke. The residents of Boeing Hill can sleep better now. Thanks WSB!

    Comment by Dusty Mixture — 3:03 pm September 14, 2012 #

  45. Heard the hum at 1:33 a.m. Sept. 18th Admiral District.

    Comment by AJ — 1:48 am September 18, 2012 #

  46. LAFARGE CEMENT SITE!! I cannot believe that people are still speculating as to what it is. We submitted a recording two weeks ago taken directly in front of the LAFARGE CEMENT SITE. If you listen to the low droning sound of the site you will realize that it is the West Seattle Hum. I can still hear it throughout the night.

    Enough said. Maybe the City can pay attention to it.

    Comment by alex — 8:28 pm September 18, 2012 #

  47. I heard the hum at 11:30pm 9/18/12, then went to sleep. I think it is happening now, though there is still quite a bit of street noise (9pm, 9/19/12).

    Comment by WestSeattleRocks — 9:11 pm September 19, 2012 #

  48. After over a year of investigating, I finally found the exact source of the Magnolia version of what you’re hearing in West Seattle. This may or may not be of use to you as I’m not sure if what you’re hearing is caused by the same thing.

    Our hum is officially originating from the Oxygen Generation Facility at the West Point Water Treatment Plant in Discovery Park. Mind you, this is *three quarters of a mile away from me* as the crow flies and I can still hear it. I’ve called over there and they’ve been very helpful so far and I’m going to meet with them to discuss further, but this is definitely the source of the 240hz signal. What the Oxygen Generation Facility does — as far as I’ve read — is produce oxygen for pumping into the Sound so as to minimize the effect of nitrogen in our waste water. It’s a good thing overall, but I’ve also read that the compressors on these things can produce lots of noise. Best I can tell, the noise from the compressor which produces the steam is being amplified by the concrete structure around it and the soundwaves are just carrying far and wide.

    It’s particularly annoying because it actually goes through walls and windows too, given its frequency.

    So, you people in West Seattle should investigate whether or not you have any sort of Oxygen Generation facility near you, or perhaps if you are even hearing ours. There is line of sight between West Seattle and the Discovery Lighthouse after all.

    Comment by Mike D. — 10:40 am September 20, 2012 #

  49. Google “Lafarge Hum Youtube.” It is a plant that grinds and recycles large qty’s of cement.

    Comment by Anon — 9:11 am September 24, 2012 #

  50. WSB, can you tell us where things stand on this? The hum is obnoxiously loud at this very moment and it is Lafarge. From what i just read on your main page, I’d imagine that they’re working overtime to make cement for all of the huge buildings that are to go up in the Junction.

    If not, it might just be time to take action and picket the company.

    Comment by alex — 6:57 pm September 24, 2012 #

  51. Today is the first day I’m starting to hear multiple people say they’re hearing it. Hope someone will record AND that all will complain to city. Going to go check it out later tonight. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 7:13 pm September 24, 2012 #

  52. Loud and obnoxious as ever tonight in the Highland Park area. Called it in and left message, encourage others to do the same.

    Comment by DLH — 7:49 pm September 24, 2012 #

  53. Hum is loud near Southwest Library/Westwood Village tonight about 9:30. On and off for 20 minutes now. Will call in.

    Comment by TC — 9:53 pm September 24, 2012 #

  54. Very ominous and foreign! It waxes and wanes- woke me up tonight. It’s been going on for a few hours now. Ive got a recording. Will call the city.

    Comment by Helen — 4:49 am September 25, 2012 #

  55. The noise went until 3:30 AM and was loud enough to wake me up several times. Still hearing it in Westwood Village area again at 8 AM.

    Comment by TC — 8:17 am September 25, 2012 #

  56. The sound of the LaFarge plant on Youtube does sound like what I hear. I am near 35th and Thistle. I hear it right now (7:13 PM) and at night, and even got woken up by it at midnight. I hear it almost ever night. I was at the South Seattle Community College North parking lot today and heard it clearly, and could tell it was down near the Duwamish. I know there are noise pollution regulations that restrict times and levels. Does anyone know how we can all complain together?

    Comment by Pat — 7:15 pm September 26, 2012 #

  57. I’ve been hearing it off and on this past week. I am hearing it right now. It is very odd, seems to be directional, but sometimes much more vague. And it just stopped. I live in Highland Park, right behind the 7-11 at Holden & 16th. And I am hearing it again. It doesn’t wake me up, but I use earplugs.

    Comment by Amy B — 7:20 pm September 27, 2012 #

  58. I have heard of a mysterious hum sound in other parts of the world, even this year! They heard a hum seemingly coming from the sky in Costa rica, Norway and the Ukraine. They have talked about it on the nightly radio station known as Coast to Coast AM, they also have a website. Maybe its the same thing?

    Click to EditRequest Deletion

    Comment by Maybe? — 10:48 pm September 29, 2012 #

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