#21 – Quackers

There are probably very few jobs in the history of humanity more stressful than that of a Soviet Navy submarine officer at the height of the Cold War. Sure, being a binman’s got to be gross and exhausting, but it beats sitting in a pressurised tin can several hundred feet under sea level with a few dozen other stinky stressed-out Russians, your vodka-soddened finger hovering over the big red button that could potentially make you personally responsible for millions of innocent deaths. That’s a terrifying amount of pressure for anyone, regardless of how much you love Gorbachev and furry hats. Any additional stress must have felt like a needlessly spiteful flick in the balls – a flick in the balls delivered after some other bastard had already grabbed hold and knotted the whole package into a throbbing, fleshy pretzel.

Unfortunately, additional stress did come along, in the form of a probable cryptid actively fucking with these nuclear submarines, as if playing ‘tag!’ with a stressed-out world power capable of annihilating half the world was the most hilarious idea ever.

There's a very good reason why this man has never featured on an episode of Punk'd.

There’s a very good reason why this man has never featured on an episode of Punk’d.

It started with the deployment of ballistic submarines to the northern seas. Crews started reporting strange frog-like sounds picked up on their sonar which they soon started referring to as ‘quackers’, as apparently Russians are rubbish at onomatopoeias. These sounds appeared when the subs passed through certain zones and most worryingly of all, they weren’t stationary. They actively followed the submarines around at terrifying speeds, quacking repeatedly and apparently actively attempting to avoid sonar pulses sent out in response. Not that avoiding the pulses mattered – the Reds never managed to detect anything on their active sonar, making it practically impossible that the noises were being made by other submarines. When a vessel left the apparent patrol zones of these phenomena, they’d emit one final ‘quack’ and give up pursuit.

In summary, these weird noises pretty much followed the submarines for a bit, going “ner ner ner-ner ner!” like bullies with ADD, and when they got bored of the chase they’d put out one final “well, fuck you then” and head off home with all their toys. Whatever these signals were, they were made all the more terrifying by the fact that Doppler shift measurements put some of them at speeds of more than 200 knots. That’s a speed several hundred feet underwater, and to this day no known man-made vessel can match it. It”s a positively Roadrunner-esque level of utter dickery, except you need to replace Wile E Coyote with one of the biggest nuclear superpowers the world has ever seen.

And on top of that, a pigeon's miscarried on his head.

Screw this for a game of stick-your-mother-in-a-gulag.

Toward the end of the 1970s the areas apparently patrolled by the mystery noisemakers had expanded drastically from the Barents Sea right through to the North Sea and the North Atlantic. The Soviets were concerned enough to consider them a legitimate national security risk, and the Soviet Academy of Sciences was invited to form a joint commission with the Navy to investigate the source of the threat. This commission worked for over a decade, disbanding only when the quackers slowly faded and then disappeared entirely in the 1980s, never to be heard again.

Although it’s generally taken as fact that the commission never reached any solid conclusions regarding the origin of the sounds, their reports remain classified to this day. The only hard facts anyone seems to have about the Quackers is that they were definitely heard and something was definitely making them. The three main theories are all quite fun and go like this:

  • The were noises made by unknown Allied technology. It’s true that both sides were doing everything they could to figure out where the other’s sub’s were, but a detection technology that made sound in return just doesn’t seem that tactically sensible. Also, the sheer speed of the damn things would’ve been impossible to create in a craft in the late 1960s when they were first detected – hell, it’s not even possible today.
  • They were extraterrestrial in origin, which is a whole other blog and a whole other set of frothing nutcases.
  • They were made by some unknown form of marine life.

Obviously, I’m going to focus on option 3, ’cause that’s the whole bloody point isn’t it?

The sounds were initially dismissed as Orca mating calls, as they sounded rather similar – however, Orcas generally go bow-chicka-wow-wow near the surface, and no Quacker was ever detected at a depth of less than 200m. The recorded speeds of some of the noises also makes the whale idea seem rather unlikely, unless Reagan figured out a way to strap a rocket engine into Shamu’s anus and point the whole terrifying mess at the enemy.

Just you wait, you little fucker.

Just you wait, you little fucker.

Some form of giant squid has also been suggested as a possible candidate, and they’re certainly intelligent enough to emulate some of the Quacker behaviours. With no rigid skeleton, their physiology is also a possible explanation as to why they were never detected on active sonar. However, no known species of cephalopod possesses noise-making apparatus of any kind, meaning any Quacker squid would have to be a brand new and unusual species. One that apparently likes to shout at angry communists.

However, even the cryptid theory fails to account for the way in which Quackers first appeared, peaked and then vanished entirely. Such a drastic and sudden change in behaviour species-wide is entirely unheard of, meaning the whole mess is one enormous mystery.

But just bear this in mind – it was an enormous mystery that the Soviet Union feared enough to consider it a national security threat. Even at the height of all the Cold War paranoia, that’s a major credibility boost for the possible existence of a right bastard of a cryptid – one that apparently lives underwater and understands human psychology enough to try and trigger a global nuclear war. Ariel, you’re a fucking dick love.

"I can hear the flesh melting off their bones!"

“I can hear the flesh melting off their bones!”

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