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A mysterious sound is bugging Fla. residents. It might be fish mating.

Black drum fish, which typically live off the Atlantic Coast, produce a sound similar to a speaker’s bass when they mate, according to a fisheries program manager. (Getty Images)

Stephanie Kaltenbaugh hopped into her minivan this month and began driving around Tampa, determined to find the source of a frequent drumming noise that, at times, had even caused her house to shake.

First, she drove to the Stovall House, a nearby social club, to see if music was to blame, but the bothersome sound was coming from the opposite direction. So she drove south to a nearby Air Force base and turned her car off to see if she heard anything. But the sound was coming from the direction she had just driven.

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After driving in circles for about an hour, Kaltenbaugh gave up for the night. She and her neighbors were left wondering where the mysterious sound was coming from.

But after enduring the recurring noise for several years, some neighbors are taking action to identify the source. Resident Sara Healy recently contacted a marine scientist, who agreed to help if Healy and her neighbors raise money for hydrophones that can record audio in the Tampa Bay, where many residents think the sound is coming from.

Healy created a GoFundMe, which raised more than $2,300 in over a week - mostly from neighbors who also can’t stand the noise. After Healy raises $2,500, scientist James Locascio plans to place microphones underwater to determine once and for all the sound’s origins.

“It seemed a little bit silly for me to be pursuing this so doggedly,” Healy, 45, told The Washington Post. “But on the other level, this is something that’s important to the community.”

Locascio, a fisheries program manager for the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Fla., has a good guess for the noise source - and it’s not what most people would expect.

Black drum fish, which typically live off the Atlantic Coast, produce a sound similar to a speaker’s bass when they mate, Locascio said. He said the fish flex their muscles against their swim bladder to produce drumlike sounds at low frequencies.

While underwater sounds rarely transfer into the air due to their different densities, Locascio said black drum noises travel through the ground and tunnels, sometimes reaching people’s homes.

It’s possible that the black drum population has increased in Tampa Bay in recent years, causing noise disturbances, Locascio said. The fish mate on winter nights, he said.

“This is a pretty uncommon phenomenon,” Locascio said. “All these people are surprised by it because it’s not well-known.”

Abbi Reynolds, who lives about a mile from the bay in South Tampa, said she began hearing noises at night in 2021 after she and her family moved into a new house. The noise intensified the next year, she said.

Reynolds, a real estate agent, said she felt her pillow vibrating some nights and started wearing earplugs. Her son, who was 4 at the time, woke up scared and slept with his parents when he heard the noise.

Some nights, Reynolds said she walked around her neighborhood with a flashlight, seeking the noise’s source. But she always came home without an answer. Even the Tampa Police Department received noise complaints in December 2022 but couldn’t identify the source, according to FOX 13.

Kaltenbaugh, 39, who lives about a block-and-a-half from the bay, said the noise also intensified at her home in the fall of 2022.

“You’re really spending all this time questioning your sanity,” said Kaltenbaugh, who operates a pet-sitting business.

While the noise was infrequent most of last year, it resurfaced this winter. On Jan. 13, residents heard it again. Healy, who lives nearly a mile from the bay, was walking to her bed when she felt a vibration.

“Oh my gosh,” Healy, who’s lived in Tampa since 2010, recalled thinking. “Is that what I think it is?”

In the past year, Healy had heard from other Tampa residents about the noise but had never experienced it herself. Fearing she was imagining it, she was relieved when her husband said he had felt a tremor, too.

As residents discussed the noise in a neighborhood Facebook group on Jan. 14, Healy said she read comments from people as far as 20 miles from Port Tampa Bay. While researching the noise, Healy saw articles about Locascio using recorders to investigate similar noises in the mid-2000s in Cape Coral and Punta Gorda, Fla. Locascio discovered that both cities were dealing with black drum.

Healy emailed Locascio, who hoped to put his research to use. A few days later, Healy created the GoFundMe, which she titled “All About the Bass.”

Once $2,500 is raised, Locascio plans to install two or three microphones underwater and record the sounds. To avoid city permits, Healy said a few people who live on the bay have agreed to place the microphones on their private property. Locascio said he might get as close to the black drum as possible via boat.

Some residents don’t believe Locascio’s theory of black drum emitting the sounds. Kaltenbaugh said she usually hears the noise on weekend nights, so she thinks it’s coming from a party boat. Reynolds thinks the noise could stem from multiple places, but her best guess is that the sounds are from construction operations.

Healy plans to continue raising money for Locascio to investigate other potential noise sources - clubs, party boats, construction and concerts - and so he can survey residents and analyze the data.

Some residents want an answer just so they can stop wondering. Others want to find a solution to halt the noise, but if fish are the culprits, people might have to wait until their mating season ends.

“Well, it’s nature,” Healy said. “There’s nothing to be done.”

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