City Councilman Vince Gentile thinks he’s solved the mystery of Bay Ridge’s great hum-conundrum. But this columnist isn’t ready to award him a MacArthur grant.
The lawmaker was obviously responding not only to local complaints of a hum coming from the water near the Owls Head sewage treatment plant, but also a series of columns I’ve done about the mysterious sound.
It all started in April, 2005, when chiropractor Concetta Butera noticed “this awful noise.”
The hum returned in the following summers and has been so loud that some residents blamed passing trains, the treatment plant, and even UFOs — until this humble columnist floated the theory about a humming fish.
It seemed like a good fit.
The oyster toadfish has been described as “homely” for its large protruding eyes, broad mouth, and flesh-like whiskers surrounding a short snout. To attract a mate, it produces a vocalization that some liken to a “foghorn.”
But that isn’t all.
The toadfish’s spawning season extends from April to October, which corresponds to the time when residents in Bay Ridge hear the mysterious noise. The male locates a private nesting area (often using old tin cans or decayed wood lying on the bay bottom (how romantic), and then calls out in the low, mournful “foghorn” to spawning females.
“The toadfish is Bay Ridge’s story of the century,” said Community Board 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann. “Fox News was even here.”
Still, despite all the media attention, the noisy toadfish was always more fish theory than fish fact — at least until I got the call the other day.
“I think we have solved the mystery,” said Eric Kuo, who is Gentile’s spokesman. “We tracked down a marine biology professor from Staten Island and he did some tests.”
Yellow Hooker was downright skeptical. But Gentile had done his homework, and had Cornell University professor of neurobiology and behavior Andrew Bass test the waters — literally.
“He came to the pier for the morning and dropped a microphone into the water and listened,” said Kuo. “He heard fish, but they weren’t toadfish.”
So I was wrong all along? We can now rule out these aquatic adventurers?
Not exactly. Turns out, there are some problems with the test performed by Bass (if that’s really his name).
Not only was the test performed near the end of the fish’s mating season, but also it is a well-known fact that these gilled Casanovas prefer to mate on hot summer nights. So why did Bass perform the test on a morning in September?
Of course, there is nothing about this mystery that has an easy explanation.
“I placed an underwater microphone into the water at several locations off of Pier 69 and heard no signs of toadfish sounds,” Bass told me, sticking to his story. “It is highly unlikely that any of the noise that residents are complaining about have their origins from fish.”
But if it isn’t the toadfish, then what is making the noise?
Like many great mysterious, every answer gives us more questions — and another column down the road.
Matthew Lysiak is a writer who lives in Bay Ridge.
The Kitchen Sink
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