Strange sounds in deep water

In 1958, Frank Watlington was listening for Soviet submarines when he stumbled onto an alien world.

Everything depends upon the voice. Call it whatever: still and small, the crackling thunder in the cloud, the donkey’s intelligible haw, the pause in the center of a hurricane gale. The voice needs no invitation; it will always seek out first contact, whether I welcome it or not.

I have felt that treble resonance within my body. If I had to guess, I’d say the voice resides somewhere deeper than my lungs. Wherever the antenna tuned to divine speech lives, it occasionally wakes me up at night, as if my seven-year-old had silently wandered into the room and clicked on the light.

In 1958, navy sonar engineer Frank Watlington was listening for the telltale sounds of USSR submarines when he stumbled onto an alien world. During the Cold War, the US Navy had commissioned a secret base off the coast of Bermuda to map the sonic landscape of the ocean. Frank and his research colleagues perfected an underwater microphone called a hydrophone, which could act as audible radar to track the movements of the deep through sound waves, including anything human-made. The navy hoped no underwater presence (read: no bad guys) would go undetected. (I’m drawing details of Frank’s story from a 2014 60 Minutes special and the website SOFAR Bermuda.)