Haunting Whale Sounds Emerge From Ocean's Deepest Point

New experiment calls to mind classic recording made famous by National Geographic.

Scientists have produced the first ever recording from the deepest part of the ocean. Now everyone can hear what James Cameron experienced at the bottom of the Challenger Deep, an incredibly remote, high-pressure location.

After 23 days of recording with a titanium-enclosed microphone, the sound is surprisingly clear, even beautiful.

Since water carries sound waves so well, the recording reveals the woosh of a storm, the churn of propellers at the surface (6.7 miles or 10.9 kilometers above), and the calls of whales. Scientists hope to use the data as a baseline, to see if ocean noise gets worse over time. Some experts have warned about the danger of increased ocean noise, since it can interfere with the communication of whales.

The Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, lies around 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Guam. It was explored by Cameron in March 2012 in his specially designed sub, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER.

After a descent that took roughly two and a half hours, Cameron spent about three hours conducting the first crewed scientific exploration of Challenger Deep. For his return trip, Cameron experienced a faster-than-expected, roughly 70-minute ascent, which he described as a "heckuva ride." The only life Cameron saw at that depth were some tiny amphipods, shrimplike bottom feeders.

The haunting new whale sounds recorded from the deep remind us of the classic "Songs of the Humpback Whale" recording, made by marine scientist Roger Payne, which National Geographic magazine helped popularize. In 1979, a flexi-disc containing some of the tracks was distributed free with copies of the magazine. The discs turned into a cultural sensation and quickly became collectors' items. They ultimately led to increased awareness about the plight of whales and helped put pressure on illegal whaling.

Payne's humpback recordings "was one of the landmark events in changing the way humans perceive the animal world," said Radio Expeditions correspondent Alex Chadwick.

Will these new recordings do the same to raise awareness about the deep sea?

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

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