Followup: City inspector now officially investigating ‘The Hum’ – but perhaps it’s a fish’s fault

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The buzz about “The Hum” reverberated around the region – and beyond – today. And an intriguing theory surfaced in a KING 5 story tonight.

First, the buzz: Radio stations, in particular, were intrigued. KIRO-FM’s Dave Ross and Luke Burbank talked with us this morning; later, we talked off-mike with a reporter working on a KPLU story. The nationally popular website Boing Boing found West Seattle’s “hum” intriguing enough for a blurb.

But the question remained: What is, or was, to blame for “the hum”?

More theories turned up in the 170-plus-comment discussion following our Wednesday story. The audio clip provided by Julie Schickling of Highland Park was even taken by one person who e-mailed us, David Voy, and turned into a visualization:

Reader Ben mapped the spots where it was heard, when WSB commenters mentioned a location, and invited others to add to this map – here’s what it has so far:

View Have you heard the Hum? in a larger map

Then tonight, KING 5’s Jim Forman hooked into the possibility it might be a sound made by fish – the plainfin midshipman fish. They talked with two scientists who are apparently out on the Duwamish River listening tonight; in the version of the story that we saw on KING’s 10 pm broadcast, they said that a ship’s hull could amplify and reflect the vibration the fish makes.

Here’s their story:

You can also hear the sound of the plainfin midshipman fish in this NPR story from 2009.

(Added Friday morning, thanks to a tip from Mike) You can see/hear it in this video published on YouTube by the Associated Press in 2008:

Meantime, in case it does turn out to be man-made … In our original story yesterday – sparked by e-mails, phone calls, and WSB Forums threads about “the hum,” also covered here back in 2009 – the city said they couldn’t do much without complaints specifying the suspected source.

When we checked back today, Department of Planning and Development (which has noise jurisdiction) spokesperson Bryan Stevens told WSB they’re officially investigating:

An inspector has been following this issue since Wednesday. Complaints have come in from areas including South Park, Fauntleroy, Lincoln Park, and even Vashon Island. Our inspector is checking in with some of the complainants to first verify they’re all hearing the same thing. We’ll also be conducting a field inspection to see what that yields. Noise is a fickle thing that can be impacted by conditions such as topography, wind and even temperature. We’re working it, but it’s going to take some time to nail down, if that’s even possible.

Of course, if it’s a fish, no amount of city-citation threats would stop it. We’ll see what the researchers have to say – and whether the “hum” returns in the strength that brought so many reports over Labor Day weekend.

71 Replies to "Followup: City inspector now officially investigating 'The Hum' - but perhaps it's a fish's fault"

  • Loveit September 6, 2012 (11:18 pm)

    Leading the way again WSB! It’s so refreshing to get REAL NEWS here.

  • RickM September 6, 2012 (11:28 pm)

    Those recordings of the fish sound nothing like the sound I heard. The iPhone recording is the exact sound I was hearing Monday or Tuesday night in Arbor Heights. It was not a constant pitch.

  • Hummmmmm September 6, 2012 (11:28 pm)

    I’mmmmm hearing it right now and now it’s so annoying. I can’t imagine it’s a fish…it just sounds and feels industrial, but sound is a funny thing. It is only at night…I’ve been listening for it…and it comes in and out periodically. I mentioned this whole thing to my husband tonight and he speculated that it might correspond with the fact that we occasionally notice a white chalky dust on our cars, presumably from some of the industry at the bottom of the hill, or of course could be totally unrelated. 12th and SW Orchard/Riverview Park…please add that to the map.

  • MAO September 6, 2012 (11:33 pm)

    In addition to topography, wind and temperature, a big factor is often clouds (location, height, etc.) Sound coming from the water will often rise, bounce off a cloud and end up in a triangulated location you would never have anticipated. Example: when the Christmas Ship is out on the water, depending on the clouds, you can hear the music in certain places great distances away from their location, and then not at all in areas close to the water. Can’t wait to hear the actual answer….that fish is UGLY.

  • AP September 7, 2012 (2:07 am)

    I don’t understand how it could be fish, it’s happening in other areas of the world not just here.

  • smokeycretin9 September 7, 2012 (5:20 am)

    THe Bob Rivers Show also had a huge chuck of morning radio time on it.

    They also had glowing reviews of the W.S. Blog and T.R.

  • Alki Resident September 7, 2012 (6:51 am)

    My mating call is not nearly that loud.

  • Brandon September 7, 2012 (6:57 am)

    lol @ Alki Resident, the sound is similar imo but i dont know if its the same.

  • Becca September 7, 2012 (7:11 am)

    I find this to be fascinating. I’m on 11th between barton and henderson – and we can’t hear it at all!

  • kayla September 7, 2012 (7:15 am)

    I think I was hearing that Sunday night. I sleep with my window open a tiny bit, and the noise was so loud I got up to see what it was. Nothing there. I closed the window and could still faintly hear it. I live about 3 miles away from the water so I can’t imagine it being fish..

  • Hummmmmm September 7, 2012 (7:42 am)

    AP…really?! Can you share the article of it happening in other parts of the world?

  • Nichole September 7, 2012 (7:48 am)

    You would think if its fish people on Alki would hear it and that doesn’t seem to be the case

  • Watchdog September 7, 2012 (8:18 am)

    This is going to make every conspiracy theorist and nut job in W. Seattle very excited. We are going to hear nonsense like “the sound is coming from the earth screaming” to “UFO landings at Boeing Field”.

    The reality is that it is a man-made sound coming from an industrial area to the east of us Whomever is making it probably doesn’t want to be discovered since they will be told to stop doing whatever it is they are doing at 3:00am that is waking up all the light sleepers.

  • megan September 7, 2012 (8:19 am)

    Highland Park on 9th. Right at the top of the hill. Haven’t heard for the last couple nights. But had to sleep with windows closed, fan on, ear plugs in. And it was 24 hrs. It was no way fish.

  • miws September 7, 2012 (8:33 am)

    ….that fish is UGLY.


    MAO, please don’t insult the fish, It will only make them angry, and then they’ll hum louder! ;-)



  • DBM September 7, 2012 (8:35 am)

    Since we are talking noise, did they recently install a new freight train route through WS ?? There cant be that much traffic at 1:00am to justify constant train horn. And does the workers at the steel mill like to drop loads of iron from fifty feet at 2:00 am??

  • M September 7, 2012 (8:40 am)

    I have a boat that I keep in a marina on the Duwamish and I’ve never heard a humming sound there. Fish my backside…

  • HelperMonkey September 7, 2012 (8:45 am)

    has anyone thought it might be the giant HVAC units on top of some of the new buildings in SODO? That sound could easily travel to West Seattle and sound like a hum. just a thought.

  • MAS September 7, 2012 (8:48 am)

    Hummmmm – AP could be referring to this:

    Or any of these:

  • Lola P September 7, 2012 (8:59 am)

    After a week or more of hearing it loud and clear, didn’t hear it last night (Findlay & Faunt). Perhaps what we need is a daily map like Ben’s (btw… I couldn’t figure out how to add to his map)

  • Miles September 7, 2012 (9:01 am)

    From the waveforms above, I can clearly see that it’s…. oh wait… Never mind. That reveals absolutely nothing.

  • bridge to somewhere September 7, 2012 (9:08 am)

    There is NO possible way the sound is from fish. No. Possible. Way. First off, it is surprisingly loud. Secondly, it’s a drone that occasionally and abruptly stops, or changes tone. Fish wouldn’t suddenly all collectively start or stop, and fish wouldn’t produce a tone that is absolutely consistent until it jumps a perfect half an octave for 30 seconds, after which is jumps back down again.
    And regarding the theory that it’s an HVAC unit doesn’t really stand-up because of the same qualities of the sound I cite above. The sound’s pitch is too high to be an HVAC unit, and too loud to be unnoticed by a building owner.

  • Bob Zickes September 7, 2012 (9:11 am)

    First of all, thank you Tracy for pursuing this noise issue so that we can get to the bottom it and get rid of the problem.

    Yesterday, I did get a call back from DPD’s David George asking if the sound I heard and first reported was the same as the recording by Julie Schickling and reproduced again by David Voy. That is exactly the sound. Thank you to Julie and David for providing that factual information that hopefully will help DPD take care of this problem.

    As far as the fish theory–they’ve got to be kidding. That is one heck of a fish story. It’s a red herring if I ever hear of one. I think that far-out fish theory only diverts attention away from what I think is the real cause of the problem. The sound is a grinding, annoying sound. That is what I would focus on.

    Thanks again for all you efforts, Tracy. This is why Seattle and West Seattle are such a good communities. When problems arise, people get involved and together to solve them.

    Bob Zickes

  • West Seattle Sun September 7, 2012 (9:15 am)

    I’ll state my opinion one more time. The sound originates from the parking lot maintenance trucks that vacuum the parking lots late at night.
    These lots include Westwood Village, SouthWest Athletic Complex, Chief Sealth, Home Depot, South Seattle Community College and beyond.

    They typically clean the lots late at night when customers have driven away.

    I live near 30th and Trenton and can clearly hear the vacuum trucks from Westwood Village, SWAC and Chief Sealth…

    The simple thing to do is contact the property/facilities managers and ask for their lot clean up schedules.

    The noise on the recording is exactly the sound I’m hearing from my second story windows.

    Problem identified, good luck with compromising on a solution.

  • L September 7, 2012 (9:21 am)

    Here is a video from 2011 from Florida residents hearing the hum noise. Some people blame HAARP, some people say it’s the natural movements of the earth. Nobody really knows what causes it. Even if it has nothing to do with a conspiracy theory it is still interesting that nobody can really pin point exactly what it is.

  • KatherineL September 7, 2012 (9:28 am)

    Fish hum? Duck! There’s a flying pig!

  • Dusty Mixture September 7, 2012 (9:35 am)

    I’ll bet $5 the “hum” is the whine of the Roller Mixer in the La Farge plant at 5400 West Marginal.

  • katman September 7, 2012 (9:46 am)

    Pigeon Hill had a underground missle site back in the 50’s, 60’s as did Vashon Island. Could it be????

  • hohum September 7, 2012 (10:03 am)

    Thanks so much to the person who recorded the noise, to WSB, and to the City for looking into this.

  • ad September 7, 2012 (10:17 am)

    West Seattle Sun – Can you make an audio recording from your phone?


    So many theories…

  • biankat September 7, 2012 (10:54 am)

    I find the fish theory fascinating. Next time I hear the noise I’m gonna believe it’s the fish. Should put me right back to sleep :)

  • Dick September 7, 2012 (10:56 am)

    Sounds fishy. I think it’s the cries of toddlers who have been taken by the coyotes.

  • AP September 7, 2012 (10:57 am)

    Here’s a recording done in Ukraine in August of 2011, it sounds exactly like the recording in West Seattle. There are probably better ones but it was the quickest I could find.

  • elikapeka September 7, 2012 (11:21 am)

    This may be a dumb question, but would it make any sense to check the records with Seattle City Light or other utilities and look for unusual spikes indicating big power or water usage spikes and see if it tracks? I would think that whatever it is (assuming it isn’t fish) is using a lot of power, so maybe it could be narrowed down that way?

  • Rae September 7, 2012 (11:21 am)

    The Seatac airport has noise sensors at several points around the area in the map. Maybe someone could work with the Seatac Noise Abatement program to see if they’ve picked anything up?

  • Amy September 7, 2012 (11:30 am)

    @megan – I didn’t hear it the last two nights, either. I’m in Sunrise Heights, near 32nd & Myrtle.

  • Peacock Feathers September 7, 2012 (11:58 am)

    @ Dusty Mixture… Do you have any fact to support your claim or are you hypothesizing? I’m assuming you will lose five bucks. Also, what is a roller mixer? Your terminology is confusing to us simple minded folks.

  • oddreality September 7, 2012 (11:58 am)

    I didn’t hear it the last two nights either. Funny that the sound was reduced after Tracy spoke to the people at LaFarge….

  • Peacock Feathers September 7, 2012 (11:59 am)


    Love the fish story…. didn’t know they were screamers.

  • whitecenterAnonymous September 7, 2012 (11:59 am)

    i heard it again last night around 1am. it actually woke me up after being asleep for 3 hours. it got dead quiet (with the exceptions of the few aircraft and cars on roxbury) about an hour after i was woken up.

  • Peacock Feathers September 7, 2012 (12:01 pm)

    @ oddreality … Why don’t you call Lafarge and see if they changed their operation in any manner? I noticed that on the original blog they posted a number to call with a guarantee of the guy in charge to call you back. Could it hurt?

  • Peacock Feathers September 7, 2012 (12:09 pm)

    FYI people…..

    “In hopes of finding out more, Lafarge has set up a voice mailbox so you can call with information if you hear it and you believe it’s coming from their plant. The number is 206-336-0988. If you call, the company says, you’ll get a call back, and they will check daily.

    But first, as mentioned earlier, the city says they need to hear more about this before they can investigate, and they need specifics. Their inspectors are at (206) 684-7843 or (206) 615-1760”

    From the original post….

  • wsoscar September 7, 2012 (12:15 pm)

    I honestly have never heard this. I have normal hearing but maybe it is alien communication meant only for a chosen few.

  • TrainHater September 7, 2012 (1:58 pm)

    Amen to the person commenting on the train whistles increasing. I haven’t heard the hum but dollars to donuts the trains, back-up-beepings and the lovely new air raid siren thingy from the industrial zone are a LOT louder and more invasive than a fish mating call or whatever the hum turns out to be.

  • Wsgirl September 7, 2012 (2:40 pm)

    While living on alki last year the hum would keep me up at night. I always thought is was the dishwasher in the apartment above mine.

  • brin September 7, 2012 (3:03 pm)

    Until recently, I lived on the hill above the Duwamish industrial area, next to SSCC, and was also bothered by the noises on more than one occasion, and spent several nights investigating where they were coming from. And, there were actually several sources, which I came to recognize, much like birders can identify a bird from it’s call.
    First, there’s the La Farge plant, which is the source of the low rumble/grinding sound, and in my opinion, the worst offender. They have a huge tumbler that grinds up material for concrete. It’s been relatively quiet for the past year or two because of the slump in building. But construction has taken off in the past few months and they simply need to put out more product. We hear it in the wee hours because they’re getting ready for following day’s business.
    Second, the huge train yard servicing the Port and other businesses. They often idle all night long because it’s cheaper than starting and stopping them between moving containers around. I also have no idea why they continually sound their incredibly loud whistles at night, echoing from Beacon Hill all the way to Vashon, when they’re going 5 or 10 miles an hour and there’s almost no traffic of any kind. Gimme a break. These huge yards also often have many refrigeration cars and containers idling as well, which can add another layer to the sound, making it difficult to identify.
    Third, there are any number of industrial businesses that have various kind of heating and cooling equipment going throughout the year. These can add to the general din.
    Fourth, as annoying as the sounds can be, they do mean that the economy is picking up and that more people are working, despite the rest of us being sleep deprived.
    Fifth, I suspect that some of us may be hearing different things in different parts of West Seattle, depending on atmospheric conditions and how they effect different frequencies, or maybe something altogether different and coming from somewhere close to their neighborhood, like a grocery store or other business.

  • wetone September 7, 2012 (3:11 pm)

    They must be smoking CRACK if they think it’s fish !!! Lafarge is a good area to look into. See when the barges come in with materials and how they are processed.

  • westseattledood September 7, 2012 (4:18 pm)

    Watchdog and Brin!!!
    Smart, sensible and Spot on.

    Very very good!

  • WSB September 7, 2012 (4:50 pm)

    I’m pruning this back to get rid of the person-to-person snark (which would have gone further but the filter caught the last few attempts and we have not approved them for publication).
    Criticize the comment.
    Not the commenter.

  • DPM September 7, 2012 (4:54 pm)

    We’ve lived in the N.Shorewood area for7 years and I remember hearing it when we 1st moved in and then periodically on & off there after and same as all of you on Labor Day too.
    Will we ever find out what or who it is???

    I just hope it’s not the warning sign of a big earthquake that’s coming like some people think because I’m enjoying my life and family and want to stay around for a long, long time!

  • Lisa September 7, 2012 (5:14 pm)

    I’m with the “no way it’s fish” people. The noise is just to industrial and LOUD. I spoke with one of the city noise inspectors for about 20 minutes yesterday. He listened to the clip that Julie recorded on her cell. I verified that was the sound that woke me at 2am. He mentioned that South Park Industrial Metals could be a culprit. It would explain why people directly west of south park are hearing it the loudest and most frequently. Hopefully they can put a noise meter in that vicinity…

  • RG September 7, 2012 (5:35 pm)

    I hope the field inspection(s) will include measuring the sound from different locations. It seems to me that the sound waves would decrease in amplitude the further they are from the source. I mean, the intensity of the power of this sound would lessen because of the topography; I would think anyway.
    A fish as the source? I personally don’t think so.
    However, if I’m wrong and the source is actually originating from a fish then I’ll donate $20 to the West Seattle Food Bank.
    (If I’m right I’ll still donate $20. I just like some betting action now and again).

  • thegodshavegonecrazy September 7, 2012 (7:08 pm)

    Further evidence that tne gods have, indeed, gone crazy.

  • visitor September 7, 2012 (7:21 pm)

    Could it be something from Boeing Field? The map locations just seem to encircle the airstrip.

  • elikapeka September 7, 2012 (8:08 pm)

    This story made Huffington Post. Way to go, WSB!

  • dcn September 7, 2012 (10:41 pm)

    I don’t know if anyone is updating the map, but there were 2 of us in the last story on this who reported hearing it around 28th and Thistle. I haven’t heard it the past few nights.
    I also agree that it is definitely not a fish sound. And, I don’t see how it would transmit through the water/air boundary at such a high amplitude. If we all lived underwater with the fish, I’d consider the idea.

  • justme September 7, 2012 (11:53 pm)

    I heard a sound just like this today in the afternoon. I stopped and picked up on it because I’d been reading this and had listened to the audio yesterday.
    I live near California and Spokane St. Makes me wonder if the sounds is happening not only at night, we just have too many other distractions during the day to notice.

    Hope you all can get a good nights sleep! I know if the sound was keeping me up at night I’d be counting the repetitions.

  • justme September 7, 2012 (11:56 pm)

    Perhaps Boeing field is the new Area 51?

  • K8 September 8, 2012 (12:30 am)

    We hear it routinely at 41st and Dawson. I really doubt that it is caused by a fish.

  • Seattle Dweller September 8, 2012 (7:16 am)

    “But construction has taken off in the past few months and they simply need to put out more product. We hear it in the wee hours because they’re getting ready for following day’s business.”- Brin

    Tee hee. I don’t think they are making donuts. And isn’t it the end of the construction season…

  • Heather September 8, 2012 (8:46 am)

    I have NEVER heard the “hum” while diving around WS. If it was originating from underwater I’m sure divers would have encountered it.

  • Heather September 8, 2012 (8:59 am)

    So…my question is: If this is the movement of the Earth’s plates and a disruption in the magnetic field, as mentioned in the previous blog, and the “big one” is coming…should I continue to pay off my credit card?

  • brin September 8, 2012 (11:47 am)

    Yeah, right, Seattle Dweller, people in the construction business only work in the Summer.

  • AJP September 8, 2012 (12:07 pm)

    Sound travels very well across water, maybe it’s coming from the Kitsap peninsula.

  • Ben Hutchinson September 8, 2012 (4:22 pm)

    I’ve never heard it before. However it does sound industrial. It certainly isn’t a natural sound like fish or whatever. Natural sounds tend to have variations, and these are usually random in nature. Natural sounds also tend not to have their attributes change suddenly, but rather over a period of time. If the sound is constant or has sudden jumps or well controlled (such as linear) changes in loudness or frequency, then it is very likely to be manmade.

    From looking at the spectrogram of the sound, it appears to occupy several distinct and constant frequencies. Certainly something like that is manmade. Also the very low pitch rumbling sounds like an engine on a vehicle.

    To locate it you may want to use a directional microphone of some kind, that either has a strong narrow peek of sensitivity in one direction, or a strong narrow peek of signal “extinction” in one direction. These would allow you to tell the direction the sound was coming from. Doing this at 2 or more places would allow you to draw lines on a map, and where they cross would indicate the location of the source of the noise.

  • JG September 9, 2012 (12:00 pm)

    Just an FYI, they’re reading about this in the UK:

  • Brian September 10, 2012 (2:11 am)


    It is The cement plant lafarge! The next time it happens, drive to their front gate and listen, it is the sound and it is loud as hell next to the plant. Remember, sound used the inverse square law.

  • Stephen September 10, 2012 (6:30 pm)

    Lets not make this more complicated than it has to be. The culprit is obviously the Lafarge plant. The sound clip clearly matches the distinctive hum produced by the Lafarge plant during most days and nights. Now the question is what can be done about it.

  • Frank September 13, 2012 (2:34 pm)

    I moved to San Juan Island this spring and have been hearing an intermittent rumbling on and off since moving here. I have probably heard it a dozen different nights and days this summer. I always assumed it was some military aircraft, but got curious today and it appears to be very similar to the West Seattle phenomenon. Today, Sept 13th, it has been particularly strong all day until now (2:30 pm). I think this sound may be widespread. The direction definitely seems to be coming from the southeast. We are about a mile from the sea, so if that is the source, it is traveling a long way.

  • westseattledood September 16, 2012 (9:16 pm)

    There is a Lafarge Cement plant in Victoria, Frank. Might be worth checking that plant as a possible source, given that there are complaints of this same hum globally, curiously within 25-30 miles of a Lafarge plant of one kind or another. Lafarge Group and its subsidiaries is the biggest building/construction supplier in the world and has plants in 75 countries with over 400 in the US which make cement, drywall and other similar materials. Maybe it is this goliath in Victoria, maybe not. But I am 95% certain it is the source of that grinding hum in West Seattle. Get back to these comments if you learn anything about Lafarge Canada in Victoria.

  • Mary September 18, 2012 (4:31 pm)

    Many years ago I moved out to the country and one summer evening while sitting on the back porch heard what I thought was a drill right in back of me in the woods. I got scared thinking there was a madman in the woods with a drill. Turned out to be bucks (male deer). They make a sound exactly like a drill running.

Sorry, comment time is over.