The Whale That Quacked

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

Kerry Grens
Kerry Grens
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.