Nautical Nomenclature – Not a New Indie-Folk Group

baleen-whale2Autonomous underwater gliders near the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument east of Guam regularly heard something strange in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015. Scientists from Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center recently dubbed the nifty new noise the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

“Aurally, the sound is quite unusual and most resembles the minke whale ‘Star Wars’ call. It is likely this sound is biological and produced by a baleen whale,” wrote scientists from HMSC’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies in a recent paper published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Sorry for the sonically vast Star Wars reference, but there’s certainly some subjectivity to these complex calls. Think of say, every sound from the cantina scene: all the boings, strange metallic sounds, deep moans to high frequencies—anything between 38 and 8,000 hertz for between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds. Yeah, that noise, that’s what these passive acoustic ocean gliders have been picking up.

In more technical terms, “It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said lead author Sharon L. Nieukirk, the marine bioacoustics senior faculty research assistant at Oregon State, in a recent press release. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

Still, scientists have high hopes of identifying the source of the Western Pacific Biotwang. Nieukirk explained, “Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound.”

Nieukirk and her team hope to mount an expedition to find out what is making the sound. Utilizing acoustic localization, the team aims to gather genetic and acoustic data as well as to visually identify the noise-maker once and for all.

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

By Matthew Hunt

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