Whale Songs Could Assist Ocean Research

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Much noise has been made about noise in the oceans.

Manmade noises from marine traffic, submarine sonar pings and air gun-armed ships have been shown to disturb marine life, and sometimes marine life has disturbed humans, but new research shows that whale songs may actually help seismologists explore the seafloor.

In 2019, while studying at Oregon State University, a Czech seismologist found that booming fin whale calls were transmitting through the ocean floor and could help humans see below the oceanic crust.

Rather than paying for expensive air gun vessels to create artificial seismicity, Václav Kuna realized that whale calls could see 8,200 feet below the seafloor, through sediments and the underlying volcanic rock.

“It’s a nice example of how we make use of the data the planet provides for us,” Jackie Caplan-Auerbach, a seismologist and volcanologist at Western Washington University, told The New York Times.

Fin whales swim in groups and gossip with one another by making booming 189-decibel chirps. “They’re really loud,” William Wilcock, a marine geophysicist at the University of Washington, told The New York Times. “They’re nearly as loud as a big container ship.”

Seismologists usually find whale songs inconvenient because it causes interference when they’re trying to listen to earthquake activity, but rather than always filtering out the cetaceans, they may now want to zero in on them.

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