What's that sound?
We've all been in that position. We hear a noise, somewhere. And it starts to drive us crazy because we don't know what's making it. And then... oh, it was the fridge. Or that's just a fan left on in the next room.
But for residents of the hamlet (or small town) of Igloolik in central Nunavut, the unknown noise isn't just Jimmy drumming on his desk or a boiling tea kettle someone forgot about in the kitchen. It's stranger and weirder. And even after months of talking about it, no one understands quite what it is.
The sound—described by different locals as a "ping", a "hum", or a "buzz"—is coming from the sea bed (or floor) of the nearby Hecla and Fury Strait. (A strait is a long narrow body of water that joins two larger bodies of water on either side.) People first noticed the sound in the summer. And though not everyone says that they can hear it, they are noticing something else that is odd. There were very few marine mammals in the water this summer. Normally, they are everywhere.
The Hecla and Fury Strait is a major hunting area for the people of Igloolik and other Inuit in the area for two reasons. One, it is migration route for bowhead whales, bearded seals, and ringed seals. The seals in particular have been hunted for their meat, blubber, and skins for generations. Two, the strait is a polynya (say pah-len-yah). This is an Arctic area where the water stays unfrozen, even in the winter. In other words, lots of seals + open water year round = perfect hunting area.
And yet, since the summer, the animals have been gone.
How would a "ping" cause this?
Marine mammals—as well as most sea creatures—are very sensitive to sound. You would be too if where you lived was often dark and you couldn't use your eyes to find your way around! So many locals believe that this sound has scared the animals away. But since it is coming from so deep underwater, no one has been able to figure out what is causing the noise. Or if it is even on purpose.
Of course, people do have some guesses. The Baffinland Iron Mines Company has done sonar surveys in nearby waters in the past. A sonar survey uses sound to map the sea floor. But the company says that it is running no tests like that in the Hecla and Fury Strait. Some also think it might be the environmental activist group Greenpeace. Why? By using a sound to scare away marine mammals, they would be saving the animals from the hunt. But again, Greenpeace says that it would never interfere with an animal's natural habitat.
For now, the Canadian Armed Forces have joined in the mission to solve this mystery. The people of Igloolik hope that it gets solved soon and that their lives can get back to normal.