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Discovery of Sound in the Sea
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Minke Whales
(Balaenoptera spp.)
Photo of Minke Whale.
Minke whale in Monterey Bay. Photo courtesy of Tom Jefferson
Click either choice below to hear the Minke Whale:
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Series of low-frequency thumps recorded by SOSUS receivers in the West Indies. To make this sound audible for humans, it was sped up by a factor of ten. This raises the pitch and compresses the time.
Sound © Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Bioacoustics Research Program.
Click either choice below to hear the minke whale "boing" vocalization:
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Common minke whale "boing" vocalizations recorded by a towed array in the North Pacific Ocean.
Sound courtesy of Jay Barlow and Shannon Rankin, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service (http://swfsc.noaa.gov/textblock.aspx?Division=PRD&ParentMenuId=148&id=1244). Released under Creative Commons License, non-commercial attribution.
Click either choice below to hear the dwarf minke whale "star-wars" vocalization:
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"Star-wars" vocalization recorded from dwarf minke whales in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.
Sound © Jason Gedamke.Released under Creative Commons License, non-commercial - no derivs.
Description
Until the late 1990s, only one species of minke whale was believed to exist, the common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). However, in recent years, researchers have determined that enough scientific evidence exists to recognize two separate species. The Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) is found in southern hemisphere waters, where a dwarf subspecies of the common minke whale also exists. The large form of the common minke whale is found in the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean. Minke whales are identified by a narrow, pointed rostrum (snout) and black or dark gray coloring on the back with gray shading extending up each side in front of and below the dorsal fin. Common minke whales have a white band on both pectoral flippers. The dwarf subspecies of the common minke whale can also be distinguished from the Antarctic minke whale because it is much smaller. Minke whales are very difficult to see in the ocean because they have a low or nonexistent blow or spout when they surface, they surface for a very brief amount of time, and they are usually found alone. Because of these reasons, sound is especially useful for studying these animals.

Common minke whales in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and the dwarf subspecies in the Antarctic each produce different vocalizations. Common minke whales found in the North Atlantic produce repetitive, low-frequency (100-500 Hz) pulse trains that may consist of either grunt-like pulses or thump-like pulses. The grunts are between 165 to 320 msec long with most energy between 80 and 140 Hz. The thumps are between 100 and 200 Hz, lasting 50-70 msec. Pulse trains last 40-60 seconds and are repeated every 6-14 minutes in bouts lasting several hours. Common minke whales in the North Pacific produce a sound called the "boing." This sound had been recorded for many years, but it wasn't until very recently that it was determined that minke whales were producing it. It consists of a brief pulse at 1.3 kHz, followed by a call at 1.4 kHz that changes frequency slightly over its 2.5 sec duration. The dwarf form of the common minke whale produces a complex and stereotyped vocalization called the "star-wars" vocalization. It spans a wide frequency range from 50 Hz to 9.4 kHz and is composed of distinct and repeated components. The vocalization is repeated at very consistent intervals that can vary from 1-2 seconds to 3-4 minutes. It is quite possible that with further research, scientists will determine that the Antarctic minke whale makes unique vocalizations too!