Antarctic Whale

The Antarctic BW29 sound was registered more than 1,000 times while the Antarctic BW37 sound was logged six times

A team of Antarctic researchers, led by Jennifer Trickey of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, have recorded two new whale sounds believed to be completely different from previously documented whale tunes. Their study, published in Marine Mammal Science, has lead to speculation that the sounds could originate from a new species of whale never heard before.

The two noises, named Antarctic BW37 and Antarctic BW29 respectively, were recorded aboard a research ship sailing near the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands and South Shetland Islands. The whale tunes were recorded via a submerged hydrophone array tugged 200 meters (656 feet) behind the research vessel.

According to the study, Antarctic BW29 was registered more than 1,000 times during 14 separate recordings while Antarctic BW37, which is of a higher frequency, was only logged six times.

The Antarctic BW29 sound is similar to noises produced by a family of whales known as beaked whales. Beaked whales are notoriously hard to study due their behaviour—they swim in deep waters and only come on the surface for brief periods of time. It is therefore possible that the sound comes from an already-observed but elusive beaked whale species. However, experts insist that BW29 is not from an Arnoux’s beaked whale or Cuvier’s beaked whale, as the signal does not match their documented whale tunes. It could belong to a strap-toothed whale, however this species is typically sighted much further north than the location where Antarctic BW29 was heard. Additionally, the noise is of the wrong frequency to belong to a Gray’s beaked whale, leaving the Southern bottlenose whale as the most likely origin.

The team remains unsure if Antarctic BW37 and Antarctic BW29 are produced by the same species, however they believe that there is still a chance that the signals originate from a new species.

“Given that new species of beaked whale are still being discovered, the source of these Antarctic signals might be a species that has yet to be identified,” the study declared.

Further studies to solve the mystery behind these two sounds and advance scientists’ understanding of the mammals are now being planned.

— Antonio Sousa, Correspondent (Antarctica)

Image Courtesy: Christopher Michel (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmichel67/16238835137), Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic | Flickr

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