I suppose I am an animist. I wonder if a rock enjoys its existence, laying beside a path. I mourn a bush that has been burned to the ground. I know that the ocean speaks a language which most of us are just to small-minded to understand.

Which only makes things more difficult to comprehend. The ocean is vast, covering two thirds of our planet. Is it one creature, with one voice? Or is it a collective, with each harbor and each wave a seperate being joined in mighty participation?

I feel that it must be made up of different beings. Otherwise, it would encompass so much of our planet, of our lives, it would almost be omnipresent, and thats something reserved for God. Therefore, I will only describe for you the sounds beneath the ocean surface here where I live, in Key West, Florida. Please understand that this must be an entirely different voice from what you would hear a mile beneath the ocean surface, or where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, or just off the rocky shore of Iceland. This is the sound of the ocean in Key West.

You wade out into the water. It is a hot day in the Keys, as most days here are. The sun is bright and directly overhead. It feels pleasant on your shoulders and back. The water is barely cool. You step out into the water, striding as best you can in the drag of the waves, until you stand submerged up to your chest. You tilt back your head, in the general direction of the sun, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and submerge.

Scientists now have the technology to listen closer, more acurately, or over a wider range, to the sounds beneath the oceans surface. Off the coast of California a hydrophone array has been built to listen to the sounds of underwater earthquakes, dolphins and especially endangered blue whales. This technology was first developed by the military, and used to listen for the rhythmic swish of propellers. They can hear icebergs cracking in Antarctica.

Ignoring the slight complication that you are in physical peril without oxygen, you are now a proper ocean creature. Light is too easily attenuated in ocean water, making visibility extremely poor. The salt burns your human eyes anyway, so you leave them closed, and forget about breathing, forget about breathing, forget about breathing...

Your ears become sealed in water. First, and loudest, you hear the swish, swish, swish of sand being tossed by waves. Then you hear a clatter and clank of seashells, some of them fossilized, knocking against each other. Here near the shore, it seems the waves allow nothing to rest.

Always looking ahead, MIT researchers are proposing concepts for probes to be sent to Europa, Jupiters frozen moon, which may have the solar systems largest ocean beneath it's icy surface. Naturally, these probes will listen carefully for the voice of Europa's ocean, undoubtedly a dialect strange to our ears.

Spiney lobster snap and tap. The nearby ocean is thick with them. Soon the season will open, and amateurs will be free to dive in with tickle sticks and lobster gloves and harvest the oceans bounty. Porpoises bark and whistle at each other. You know from your time sailing that they are attracted to thumping sounds. If you beat on the hull, they bring the family to investigate. If you are leaving a sizeable wake they will play in it for a while.

Somewhere beneath the oceans surface submarines play cat and mouse games. Sonar operators search for audible signatures from the screw propellers of various submarines and ships. They check the reciprocal bearing of identified targets, and measure the prop count to gauge speed.

It's very hard now to ignore your need to breath. Up above you is air, and soon enough you will rise to accept it. Just a few more seconds though, just a few more seconds of listening to the sounds beneath the oceans surface. Then you hear the high pitched whine and chop of a watercraft approaching. You rise in a panic to see if it is going to crash into you, but no, it is a hundred yards further offshore. Sounds travel remarkably well underwater. The sun is still hot overhead, and the moment is very fine.

  • http://fyi.cnn.com/2002/fyi/news/01/02/sea.sounds/index.html - Scientists tune in to sounds of the sea
  • http://www.433eros.com/headlines/y2001/4review_europa_sonar.htm - Listening for Europa's Secrets
  • http://www.maritime.org/fleetsub/sonar/index.htm - Submarine Sonar Operators Manual

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