Scientists Wiretap Minke Whales To Reveal Secretive Communications Of World’s Smallest Baleen Whale

Source: Hakai Magazine/Larry Pynn

Photo: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons


The world’s oceans are full of loud and complex noises caused by everything from shipping to pile driving, seismic surveys to military sonar. Marine mammals are also capable of some amazingly powerful sounds—be it the haunting calls of a humpback whale or the rapid-fire echolocation of a hunting killer whale.

But there are also fascinating sounds in the ocean that are far more cryptic, requiring hundreds of hours of intense listening to detect at all. For example, those of the little-studied minke whale of the northeast Pacific.

“Minke whales on this coast are like the unspoken whale, the girl next door of whales, because they’re not terribly charismatic and don’t spend a lot of time on the surface doing cool things,” says Katrina Nikolich, a doctoral student specializing in bioacoustics at British Columbia’s University of Victoria.

The minke whale is the smallest baleen whale in the North Pacific. Adults grow to 8.5 meters, which is diminutive compared to a 22-meter blue whale. A minke whale feeds by filtering small fish and invertebrates from the water. “They are one of the most frustrating animals to study,” says Nikolich, noting minkes surface quickly and display little of their backs before diving in unpredictable directions.

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Photo: NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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