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Antarctic Minke Whales, Mystery Soundmakers of the Southern Ocean

Scientists have discovered the source of the "bio-duck" sound, a strange noise that has mystified scientists and submarine captains in the ocean off Antarctica for decades.

By Rich Press, NOAA Fisheries Science Writer | Posted: April 23, 2014
Follow Rich on Twitter: @Rich_NOAAFish

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Minke whale traveling in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. View slideshow One of two minke whales that researchers from Duke University outfitted with a suction cup tag. The small green tag attached to this whale records depth, heading, and roll, and also has a microphone that records the sounds made by the animal and other sounds in the environment. The suction cup tag detaches after a number of hours, then researchers retrieve the tag to download the data. Recordings made of this and one other animal revealed that minke whales are the source of the mysterious and strange "bio-duck" sound that is common in the Southern Ocean. Credit: Ari S. Friedlaender/Oregon State University. minke_whales02.jpg minke_whales03.jpg minke_whales04.jpg minke_whales05.jpg minke_whales06.jpg

Learn More

Research paper in Biology Letters

Science Spotlight article

Passive Acoustic Research at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Sounds in the Ocean, a NOAA website where you can listen to and download sounds made by all kinds of ocean animals

In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, there's a mysterious sound that reverberates underwater all through the winter. Both the military and scientists have been recording what they call the “bio-duck” sound for decades. But for all these years no one knew who—or what—was making it.

Now an international team of scientists has solved the mystery of the bio-duck sound, and their results were published today in the journal Biology Letters. It turns out that Antarctic minke whales are the ones making all the noise, and this discovery radically changes our view of that species.

Over the years, Antarctic minke whales have made news headlines as the species hunted and killed by Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean with the stated goal of scientific research. The new discovery about this same species of whale shows how much we can learn about these animals just by observing them in their environment.

Note: The audio clip of minke whales included in this podcast was provided by co-authors Ilse Van Opzeeland and Lars Kindermann, both of the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

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