Strange Sounds Recorded In Mariana Trench Could Be New Whale Species

Strange sounds in the Mariana Trench most closely resemble those made by the Dwarf Minke Whale shown here, but may be from an unknown species. Joanne Weston/Shutterstock

A whale that prefers the deep waters of the Trench would be particularly likely to evade our notice.

The Biotwang lasts between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, into which its maker packs five components, including moans at frequencies of 38 hertz (about double the lowest notes humans can hear). It finishes with a metallic-sounding pulse that can reach frequencies of 8000 Hz.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” Nieukirk said in a statement. “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.” 

The closest recorded relative of the biotwang is a "ba-ba-boinnnggg" noise given off by dwarf minke whales around the Great Barrier Reef, dubbed the “Star Wars” call for its resemblance to the sounds of blasters in the films. Since dwarf minkes in the northern Pacific make a very different sound it is possible the biotwang is a further example of their vocal diversity, but Nieukirk also leaves open the possibility of an entirely new species. She hopes researchers who have detected something similar will recognize the parallels and combine the knowledge.

Assuming the whales are not just enjoying messing with the silly humans' heads, the reason for the call is also unknown. “If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” Nieukirk added.

Given the diversity of whale sounds, Dory really didn't stand a chance of successful communication.

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