Antarctic Minke Whales, Mystery Soundmakers of the Southern Ocean

April 23, 2014

Scientists have discovered the source of the "bio-duck" sound, a strange noise that has mystified scientists and submarine captains in the ocean off Antarctica for decades.

One of two minke whales that researchers from Duke University with a suction cup tag. Credit: Ari S. Friedlaender/Oregon State.

One of two minke whales that researchers from Duke University with a suction cup tag. Credit: Ari S. Friedlaender/Oregon State.


In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, there's a mysterious sound that reverberates underwater all through the winter. Both the military and scientists have been recording what they call the “bio-duck” sound for decades. But for all these years no one knew who—or what—was making it.

Now an international team of scientists has solved the mystery of the bio-duck sound, and their results were published today in the journal Biology Letters. It turns out that Antarctic minke whales are the ones making all the noise, and this discovery radically changes our view of that species.

Over the years, Antarctic minke whales have made news headlines as the species hunted and killed by Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean with the stated goal of scientific research. The new discovery about this same species of whale shows how much we can learn about these animals just by observing them in their environment.

Note: The audio clip of minke whales included in this podcast was provided by co-authors Ilse Van Opzeeland and Lars Kindermann, both of the Alfred-Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

Last updated by Office of Communications on July 23, 2018

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