Above the water they sound like they are smoking Wookies. Under the ice they sound like chirping, chattering robots. Anyway, Weddell seals Antarctica should have no problem finding work in the upcoming Star Wars project.
“Weddell seal calls create an almost amazing, otherworldly sonic landscape under ice,” Paul Cziko, a visiting professor at the University of Oregon and lead author of a new study describing the bizarre sounds of seals, it is stated in the statement. “It really sounds like you’re in the middle of a space battle in Star Wars, laser beams and stuff.”
The catch: You would have to be an alien (or droid) to hear them; all these sci-fi sounds are completely inaudible to human ears. Cziko and his colleagues managed to detect otherworldly sounds after two years of listening to Weddell’s seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) with a special hydrophone (underwater microphone) built into Antarcticais McMurdo Sound in 2017.
Related: Beastly Feasts: Amazing photos of animals and their prey
Before researchers began filming, scientists knew of 34 seal calls heard in human ears. The team’s research is now – published online on December 18 Journal of the American Acoustic Society – adds nine new types of ultrasonic calls to the seal repertoire. These sounds include triceps, whistles, and the chirping of an alien sound, sometimes composed of more harmonized tones.
Researchers have observed that people hear in the sound range of 20 to 20,000 hertz (or 20 kilohertz). Most of the newly discovered seal sounds exceeded 21 kHz, and some have steadily climbed to 30 kHz. One high-pitched whistle reached a screaming 49.8 kHz, the team wrote – and when the seals matched multiple tones, the resulting noise could exceed 200 kHz. (It is far beyond the hearing range of cats, dogs, and even some bats.)
What are all these high-frequency communications about? Researchers are unsure; so far scientists have never discovered ultrasonic vocalizations on seals (or on any other mammal with a foot, such as sea lions or walruses). According to Czik, sounds could only be additional elements of conversation that “stand out above all lower frequencies of noise, such as a change to another communication channel.”
It is theoretically possible that noise is involved in echolocation, a biological sonar that animals like dolphins and bats use to navigate dark places. But so far there is no evidence that seals use echolocation, the researchers said. However, the behavior of seals that can dive more than 1,900 feet (600 meters) underwater and hunt in the darkness of the Antarctic winter would not be characteristic, the team added.
Let’s see how Wookie tries to do that.
Originally posted on Live Science.