A whale may be the source of that mysterious noise coming from the Mariana Trench

A whale may be the source of that mysterious noise coming from the Mariana Trench
Source: AP
Source: AP

Science may finally — finally! — have given us an answer to the most burning question of 2016: What is that strange noise coming out of the Mariana Trench?

According to a study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the strange noise is most probably the previously unheard call of a baleen whale. 

"It's very distinct, with all these crazy parts," Sharon Neukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State University, 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 Western Pacific Biotwang, as the OSU scientists call the sound, is reminiscent of the so-called Star Wars call made by dwarf minke whales, a different type of baleen whale that inhabits Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The Star Wars call sounds vaguely the way lasers do in cartoons, and has a comparable "frequency sweep" to the biotwang, according to the study, plus a similarly "metallic nature." 

A dwarf minke whale near the Great Barrier Reef.
Source: 
Kike Calvo/AP

For those who somehow missed mention of a "twangy sound" issuing from the deepest depths of the ocean, a recording is here. It sounds like a bass note reverberating inside a metal trashcan, with exotic bird calls at the end. The Mariana Trench, where the sound has been recorded, is located in the western waters of the Pacific Ocean, east of the Mariana Islands.

Researchers recorded the biotwang between the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015, according to Science Alert. which raises another question for scientists: What might the call mean? Most baleen whale calls are mating-related, which should make them seasonal. 

"If it's a mating call, why are we getting it year round?" Neukirk said in the statement. "That's a mystery. We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed."

The team hopes another visit to the Mariana Trench will help them find some answers, and ideally the whales — if in fact whales are the creatures making the noise — themselves.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Claire Lampen

Claire is a staff writer at Mic who covers women's issues and reproductive rights. She is based in New York and can be reached at claire@mic.com.

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