How Fish Farts Almost Blew Up the World


Top 5 Things You’ll Learn If You Read This Whole Thing:

  1. Kids who grow up on communes aren’t very clean
  2. Baths can cause people to fart.
  3. Russians suck at coming up with excuses.
  4. Sweden has to look to Denmark for smart people who can solve their problems.
  5. Fish farts almost led to nuclear war.

Bath time on the commune I grew up on in Northern California was not a daily thing.

The Hippie Moms and Hippie Dads who led their Hippie Families in communal life cared about many things; cleanliness wasn’t one of them.

As a young Hippie in Training, I would sometimes go weeks between baths. This doesn’t mean I was dirty. It just means the combination of water, soap and intentionality rarely shared a group hug. Us Commune Kids spent many a summer afternoon splashing around in the creek that provided our northern border, so at least the top layer of BoyStank was washed clean somewhat regularly.

To take an actual bath was a complicated task that required, among other things, the making of soap and, in the winter, the heating of water to a point where your wet ass cheeks wouldn’t immediately bond inseparably with the metal at the bottom of the basin.

On top of that, bathing — like most things on the commune — offered little in the way of privacy. Yes, we were used to seeing naked people, but that doesn’t mean we, as kids, were comfortable with our own nudity. Much to the delight of our Hippie Moms, we would try to remain clothed as long as possible before climbing as quietly unnoticed into the water.

It never failed that one of your buddies or, worse, that girl you thought was cute was watching.

I had another issue with bathing, an issue that afflicted me and only me, to the best of my knowledge, and is the reason I don’t take baths to this day. The reason is this: Bathtubs made me fart.

I have no idea why bathtubs make me fart. They just do. Some things are inexplicable.

And I’m not talking about little squeakers that release a few small bubbles. I’m talking about huge tuba sounds that echoed off the sides of the basin and turned the water into a bubbling cauldron. Hippie Mom, she of the butt-length wavy blond hair and constant wearer of culturally appropriated moccasins, found my flatulence to be so funny that she could not stop from laughing that cackling, maniacal laugh of hers, drawing the attention of anyone on commune land.

“He did it again!” she’d scream whenever she could catch her breath enough to humiliate me again.

If you’re wondering why I walked away from the commune when I was 17, well, this wouldn’t be the main reason, but it certainly was a part of the package.

Farts have been problematic throughout the course of human history, ending more than a handful of first dates with nose-held vague promises of a second that never happened.

And once they almost led to nuclear war.

Yes, I’m serious.

Welcome to the Beautiful Shores of Sweden!

On Oct. 27, 1981, Soviet submarine S-363 — a Whiskey-class vessel, for what it’s worth — ran aground on a bed of rocks 6 miles from a Swedish naval base. The appearance of a Soviet sub was something of a shock to the Swedes, who weren’t fond of the Russians anyway and certainly weren’t fond of the Russians appearing a John Elway touchdown pass away from an important military installation.

Some clever marketing guy like my Missouri relative and owner of this website, John Agliata, quickly dubbed the incident “Whiskey on the Rocks,” to which there surely was much slapping of knees.

For their part, the Soviets on the sub blushed and said: “Um, yeah… about this whole… thing. Our boat was broken and got lost,” which is disturbing for a few reasons:

  1. That’s the best the Russians could come up with.
  2. The sub was carrying a nuclear missile similar in strength to the one that leveled Nagasaki at the end of World War II, which makes the whole, “Oops. We crashed” thing a bit of a concern.

So the Swedes invited the captain to a nice little interrogation session at a nearby base.

Meanwhile, back at the ship, other Swedes (there are evidently a lot of them in Sweden) poked around to see if there were any hidden Twinkies or Ding-Dongs. While they didn’t find any Hostess products — because Communism — they did find perfectly operational navigating instrument, as well as logbooks that showed the whole, “We lost our way” thing to be quite the load of Russian crap.

Ahhh, but there were not enough Swedes to keep an eye on everyone — and here I’m assuming they were distracted by nearby Swedish women. So some dutiful Russian submariner sent a distress call that was picked up by the Soviet fleet, which happened to be hanging out just outside Swedish waters.

Two ships started heading that way.

That’s when a gentleman by the name of Thorbjörn Fälldin — and if you want a pronunciation of that, you’re on your own — used his power as Swedish Prime Minister to say, “Fuck you, Commies.” The entirety of the Swedish military stopped admiring their white-blond hair and sparkling blue eyes and manned battle stations, prepared to hold the border at all costs. The Swedish Air Force, which apparently is a thing, scrambled strike aircraft armed with modern anti-ship missiles (with American flags more-or-less painted over, I imagine).

Twenty minutes after what the history books could have called “The Stupid Swedes Thought They Could Take on One of the World’s Two Superpowers War,” a general radioed back: “Um, yeah… those two ships? They don’t have any weapons on them. And they look like merchant ships. With German people waving at us.”

Phew.

Both countries then de-escalated the situation, averting World War III. The Swedes — being a helpful people — got together and, after 10 days, pushed really hard and sent the sub back from whence it came, where we presume the captain was promptly shot in the head.

Onto the Part With the Fish Farts

As you might imagine, this incident didn’t exactly create an era of positivity with the Swedes and Russians. Neither was on the other’s Christmas card list, and vacations by the dozens to each other’s touristy hotspots were cancelled.

The next year, Swedish ships with some fancy new equipment (again, with American flags more-or-less painted over) began detecting the sound of frying bacon in the water. Wondering how it was possible to fry bacon underwater, the Swedes sent out more fancy equipment to see what was up — and found nothing but some bubbles on the surface.

The Swedes were ready to kick some Russian ass. Or at least flick a Russian ear. They would detect the frying-bacon sound, send out their ships, find nothing, message the Russians to cut the shit, and the confused Russians would say, “What shit?”

This continued for more than a decade, well past the time when “the Soviet Union” was a thing and well into the time where Boris Yeltsin’s aides were trying to smack him back into consciousness to lead the country after another all-night, all-day, all-night-again vodka bender.

So the Swedes did what anyone would do when confronted with the sound of underwater frying bacon that created on-the-surface bubbles for more than a decade: They found a really smart guy to try to figure out what the hell was going on.

That smart guy was underwater acoustics expert Magnus “Don’t Call Me Mark” Wahlberg, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark. This must have pissed off all the professors of underwater acoustics at the University of Southern Sweden who weren’t chosen for jack-shit when it came to solving the little problem of an invading underwater military force.

Sweden took Marky-Mark and a funky-bunch of other smart folks, locked them in a bunker under a navel base in Stockholm and said, “You’re not coming out until you figure this shit out.”

Realizing they were missing the main attraction of Sweden — have I mentioned Swedish women? — he figured things out pretty dang fast.

His first discovery immediately after being allowed to listen to a recording of the sound was that the Swedes were idiots. Said the good professor in a 2012 TED Talk:

“I imagined something like a pinging sound or like a sound of rotating propellers. But it was nothing like that. It really sounded like someone frying bacon, like a popping and hissing sound coming and going, like small air bubbles released in the water. Not at all what I would have expected from a submarine.”

Translated into Swedish, this sentence mean, “Really guys? I mean… really? You got your panties in a bunch over this?”

Good Vibrations Guy and the rest of the scientists in the bunker next turned to those bubbles at the surface. Unlike me — who, when I heard the story the first time, knew exactly what they were because of my commune bath time fart stories — these guys had to think about it for a while before coming up with another thing in the water besides submarines: Fish.

They went to a store and bought some live indigenous swimming things — including a Baltic herring. Most likely confused out of his little fishy head, the herring — we’ll call him Sven — was brought back to the bunker. They dropped Sven in some water with all that sensitive sound equipment the warships had and voila! Frying bacon!

You see, Sven and all of Sven’s kind has a swim bladder that, prior to shooting off in a different direction, he deflates. Instant fish farts! One herring, maybe even 10 herring’s fish farts are undetectable by military equipment. But a whole huge school of herring? Their fish farts are enough to confuse the best and brightest in the Swedish military for more than a decade.

Sven’s fart sounds were entered into the fancy-shmancy equipment on Swedish warships so it could be filtered out. To the surprise of none of the bunker bunch, the Russian subs suddenly disappeared.

All of which makes me think: If I could make a submarine powered by something that sounds like fish farts, I could probably take over the world.

Or at least Sweden.

Q.F. Conseco is the relative of website owner and Storyteller-in-Chief John Agliata. He lives outside Escandido, California, near the Hellhole Canyon Preserve with his wife, Flaca, and their three children, Franz, Hans and Helga. All three are homeschooled and extremely unsocial. Q.F. is a singer, songwriter and poet when he is not working as a trimmer for a large medical marijuana growing operation in Humboldt County, California. He likes pickled herring.

Watch Marky Mark’s Ted Talk on The Fish Fart Incident


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