1152612806

Photo by: by wildestanimal

by wildestanimal

How a Whale Song is Helping Scientists Map the Seafloor

The echoes of fin whale vocalizations are so powerful they can penetrate volcanic rock and sediment on the ocean floor. Scientists are using these seismic waves to learn more about the deep sea.

August 24, 2021

The ocean covers more than 70% of Earth’s surface, yet around 80% of the ocean remains unexplored. To put it simply, we know very little about most of the ocean.

Seafloor mapping is the first step to uncovering the mysteries of the deep. Sea floor maps increase the scope, efficiency, and pace of deep-sea exploration, keeping scientists and boats from “flying blind.”

A vital part of exploring the seafloor is mapping the density of the ocean crust. But probing the ocean’s crust requires a significant wave source. The most common method for determining crustal structure is also controversial — firing seismic air guns from ships. While this method is effective, it is potentially harmful to marine life and not easy to use.

Enter the fin whale.

1059113966

Fin whales are the second largest species of whales on the planet, second only to the blue whale. Found in the offshore waters of every major ocean, these endangered animals can reach a lifespan of about 90 years.

Photo by: by wildestanimal

by wildestanimal

Fin whales are the second largest species of whales on the planet, second only to the blue whale. Found in the offshore waters of every major ocean, these endangered animals can reach a lifespan of about 90 years.

The song of the fin whale is one of the loudest in the animal kingdom, and is detectable over great distances. Their low-frequency calls generate more than 185 decibels underwater, on par with a large ship.

Part of the energy of this powerful song transmits into the ground as a seismic wave. The wave travels through the oceanic crust where it reflects and refracts off layers in the crustal interface.

Ocean-bottom seismometers off the coast of Oregon picked up on the seismic waves of these fin whale calls. Researchers Kuna and John Nábelek, from Oregon State University, analyzed six whale songs. Using these signals, the team was able to map the thickness of sediment and rock on the ocean floor.

While fin whale songs are never going to replace seismic air guns entirely, they do provide a free and natural alternative for scientists looking to explore the ocean floor.

A small pod of sperm whale calves dive to swim under me and turn on their backs to look at us. There is a 4th calf deeper down.

534530136

Sperm whale clicks can reach as high as 235dB.

(In contrast, a loud rock concert is about 115dB and the sound of a jet engine taking off is about 140dB.)

Photo by: by wildestanimal

by wildestanimal

Sperm whale clicks can reach as high as 235dB.

(In contrast, a loud rock concert is about 115dB and the sound of a jet engine taking off is about 140dB.)

In the future, scientists think broader-frequency vocalizations, like those of sperm whales, may produce higher-resolution imaging.

The researchers write, "our study demonstrates that animal vocalizations are useful not only for studying the animals themselves but also for investigating the environment that they inhabit.”

Next Up

Dolphin Doctors Appointments: The Future of 3D Scanning Marine Mammals

Drones, satellite tracking, and underwater acoustic devices have made a huge difference in understanding more about the lives of whales and dolphins. Now researchers are turning to 3D laser scanning to get more accurate data about their size, shape, and general health.

Ancient DNA Reveals New Evidence, Changing What We Know About Human Evolution

New DNA evidence found in sediment from Denisova Cave in Siberia reveal that it may have been a common meeting place that overlapped with Neanderthal, Denisova, and Homo sapiens. Could this have altered our evolution as modern humans?

Getting the Benefits of Green Spaces through Virtual Nature

Forests and other natural spaces have proven benefits for our health and mental wellbeing, but getting to the great outdoors isn’t always easy.

How a Lizard Loses Its Tail (and More Importantly, Keeps it Attached)

Thanks to a complex internal structure, lizards can shed a tail in a pinch… yet keep their tails attached when they need them.

Meet the First Cloned Endangered Animal in North America

This black-footed ferret is not only cute, she is beyond special. Meet Elizabeth Ann, the first endangered animal to be cloned in North America.

Prince William Joins TED to Fight Climate Change

All day on Saturday, October 10, TED presents its first free virtual conference dedicated solely to the topic of global warming — 'Countdown.'

Narwhal: The One With Two Waggly Tails?

Meet Narwhal, an adorable pup with two tails. But how did this anomaly happen? Read on to learn more.

Frozen Ice Sculptures Could Save a Himalayan Cold Desert

Ladakh, a Himalayan cold desert with stunning mountains and blue waters is no stranger to the impact of a changing climate. But could manmade glaciers save this landscape and its people?

Scientists Have Decoded the Universal Language of Honey Bees

Scientists just made a real-life breakthrough in understanding how bees talk to each other. Learn more about decoding the honey bee waggle dance.

The Ocean Cleanup Successfully Catches Plastic in Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Humankind’s disgraceful rubbish footprint swirling between California and Hawaii may have just met its match.