60-Second Science

Why a Bio-Duck?

The source of the mysterious so-called "bio-duck" sounds in the Southern Ocean is finally revealed by researchers engaged in minke business. Sophie Bushwick reports


In the 1960s submarine teams in the Southern Ocean first heard [recording of odd sound]. The sound reminded the submariners of a duck. So they dubbed the mysterious sound the bio-duck. Since then, scientists have frequently recorded the bio-duck sound in Antarctic waters. But its source remained unknown. Until now.

In 2013 researchers attached sensors to two Antarctic minke whales. The tags could track depth and location—and also record vocalizations. Over a combined total of 26 hours, 32 calls were captured—including some low-pitched pulses. Some of which matched recordings made nearby of the bio-duck sound. The minke whale is thus revealed to be the source of the decades-old unidentified bio-duckitude. The work is in the journal Biology Letters. [Denise Risch et al, Mysterious bio-duck sound attributed to the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)]

Because minke whales swim in icy Antarctic waters, they're difficult to monitor, especially in winter. But by analyzing the collection of bio-duck sounds recorded over the decades, researchers may now be able to track their population size and migration patterns. But perhaps the bigger lesson: if it quacks like a duck...maybe it’s a whale.

—Sophie Bushwick
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Email this Article