Mystery Bio-Duck Ocean Sound Attributed to Antarctic Minke Whale

Posted on April 23, 2014

Minke whale with distinct grooves in its throat


Scientists have linked a mysterious bio-duck ocean sound to the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis). The noise has been a 50-year-long mystery. Some thought the noise was man-made because of the pulsing. A research paper, published here in Biology Letters, says researchers have conclusively determined the whale makes the sound after analyzing data from multi-sensor acoustic recording tags attached to the whales.

You can listen to the sound here on noaa.gov. BBC News also published a different minke audio file here.

Denise Rish, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Massachusetts, told BBC News, "Over the years there have been several suggestions... but no-one was able to really show this species was producing the sound until now."

The NOAA Fisheries Service also published a press release about the calling behaviors of minke whales. In the release, Risch says, "Because the same calling patterns were shared by several individuals, the patterns may contain information related to sex, age or a specific behavior. The whales seem to regularly use different patterns of calling when in hearing proximity of one other. We don't know yet what purposes these patterns serve or which sex is producing the calls. In several other baleen whale species only the males produce songs, which serve in a reproductive context. This could also be true for minke whale vocalizations, which appear to be more common during migration and the winter breeding season than during the summer feeding period."

The minke whale also makes a "boing" sound, which was also a mystery noise until it was linked to the whales in 2002 by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) acoustics team. Take a look:



Photo: Denise Risch, NEFSC/NOAA.