Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Sirens of Mythology?

The Buffalo Daily Courier

Friday Morning - December 30, 1859

Page 1


The Singing Fish of Ceylon


On the occasion of another visit which I made

to Batticaloa in September, 1848. I made some

inquiries relative to a story which I had heard of

musical sounds, said to be heard issuing from the

bottom of the lake, at several places, both above

and below the ferry, opposite the old Dutch Fort,

and which the natives suppose to proceed from

some fish peculiar to the locality. The report

was confirmed to me in all its particulars, and

one of the spots whence the sound proceeded

was pointed out between the pier and a rock

which intercepts the channel two or three hund-

red yards to the eastward. They were said to be

heard all night, and most distinctly when the

moon was nearest the full, and they were described

as resembling the faint sweet notes of an Aeolian


I sent for some of the fishermen, who said

they were perfectly aware of the fact, and that

their fathers had always known of the existence

of the musical sounds heard, but only during the

Dry season, and they cease when the lake is

swollen by the freshest after the rain. They be-

lieved them to proceed from a shell, and

they returned bringing me some living speci-

mens of different shells, chiefly Littorina and

Certhium. In the evening, when the moon had

risen, I took a boat and accompanied the fisher-

men to the spot.

We rowed about 200 yards northwest of the

jetty by the Fort gate; there was not a breath of

wind nor a ripple except that caused by the dip

of our oars; and on coming to the point men-

tioned, I distinctly heard the sound in question.

They came up from the water like the gentle trills

of a musical chord, or the faint vibrations of a

wine glass when its rim is rubbed by a wet fin-

ger. It was not one sustained note, but a multi-

tude of tiny sounds, each clear and distinct in

itself; the sweeter treble mingling with the low-

est bass. On applying the ear to the woodwork

of the boat, the vibration was greatly increased

in volume by conduction. The sounds varied

considerably at different points, as we moved

across the lake, as if the number of the animals

from which they proceeded was greatest in par-

ticular spot's; and occasionally we rowed out of

hearing them altogether, until on returning to

the original locality, the sounds were at once re-


This fact seems to indicate that the causes of the

sounds, whatever they may be, are stationary at

several points; and this agrees with the state-

ment of naitves that they are produced by

mollusks, and not fish. They came evidently and

sensibly from the depth of the lake, and there

was nothing in the surrounding circumstances to

support a conjecture that they could be the rev-

erbation of noises made by insects on shore

conveyed along the surface of the water, for their

were loudest and most distinct at those points

where the nature of the land, and the interven-

tion of the Fort and buildings, forbade the possib-

ility of this kind of conduction. Sounds some-

what similar are heard under the water at some

places on the western coast of India, especially

in the Harbor of Bombay. At Caldera, in Chili

musical cadences are stated to issue from the sea

near the landing place; they are described as

tones of harp strings, and mingling like those at

Batticoloa, till they produce a musical discord of

great delicacy and sweetness. The animals form

which they proceed have not been identified at

either place, and the mystery remains unsolved

whether those at Batticaloa are given forth by

fishes or mollusks. - Sir J. Emmerson Tennant’s


-Original article from the microfilm records at,

Buffalo & Erie County Public Library
Central Library
1 Lafayette Square
Buffalo, NY  14203

No comments:

Post a Comment

Horse Head Sea Serpent

  Albany Morning Express Albany, Friday, October 26, 1883 page 1 A SEA MONSTER Panama, Oct. 25, - An American whaler reports the discovery o...