The Whale That Quacked

An oceanic quacking sound—unidentified for 50 years—turns out to be minke whales.

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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Apr 23, 2014

A tagged minke whaleARI S. FRIEDLAENDER, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITYA quacking sound whose source was a mystery for decades now has an identity: the voice of the minke whale. “Over the years there have been several suggestions . . . but no one was able to really show this species was producing the sound until now,” Denise Risch, the lead author of a study published today (April 23) in Biology Letters and a bioacoustician at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told BBC News.

The so-called “bio-duck” sound was first reported by submarine personnel in the 1960s. Risch told LiveScience that “in the beginning nobody really knew what it was.” Perhaps other submarines. Maybe a fish. But the sound is “way too loud for a fish,” Risch told Science News. It wasn’t until 2013, when she and her colleagues clipped acoustic tags onto minke whales near...

Knowing that bio-duck calls come from minke whales allows Risch’s group to interpret the many bio-duck recordings that have been made over years. “The fantastic thing about acoustics is you can go back in time," Risch told LiveScience.

“This is critical information for a species that inhabits a difficult to access sea-ice environment that is changing rapidly in some regions and has been the subject of contentious lethal sampling efforts and ongoing international legal action,” the authors wrote in their study.

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The Whale That Quacked

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