Complex New Call from Baleen Whales

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Complex New Call from Baleen Whales

A sound recorded in the Mariana Trench, dubbed the Western Pacific Biotwang, is one of the most complex, unique sounds ever heard and researchers are working to pinpoint its origin.

Science Daily says that scientists at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named the sound and are studying its five parts which range from deep moans as low as 38 hertz to a metallic finish as high as 8,000 hertz.

The team has speculated that the call is that of a baleen whale. Baleen whales use baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from sea water and live in most oceans.

One of the most likely candidates for the ownership of the Western Pacific Biotwang is the minke whale, which is the smallest of all baleen whales and call frequently. One of the most common calls of the minke whale is the so-called “Star Wars” sound, which the whales often produce on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia.

The Star Wars sound and the Western Pacific Biotwang both have complex structure, a wide frequency sweep and a metallic conclusion, leading many scientists to believe they could come from the same animal.

Minke whales produce regionally specific sounds ranging from “boings” in the North Pacific to low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic.

However, most calls are only heard during specific times of the year, while the biotwang can be heard year-round. Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State University explains that not much is known about the distribution of the call because its wide frequency range makes it difficult to pin down.

The research conducted by the team at OSU allows scientists to recognize the call and hopefully listen for it in past and future recordings to better pin-point its origin.

“It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it,” said Nieukirk.

Top photo by Nesbitt_Photo CC BY-SA 2.0

Lauren Leising is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.