Alert: We have a new maritime mystery — and the clues could lead to major information about a rare whale group.
According to Science News, researchers have found a set of curious grooves in the deep seafloor.
They think they could have been made by foraging beaked whales.
This is a potentially huge finding, because currently that portion of the seafloor is marked for mining. If it's actually a feeding ground for rare whales, that could change things.
The researchers, who published their work in Royal Society Open Science, ruled out any geologic mechanism causing the indentations.
That leaves whales as their only hypothesis.
Science News reported that deep-diving cetaceans can cause sediment shifts when they root around for food. Similar behavior has been seen from gray whales that leave pits behind when they feed, according to Marine Mammal Science.
Other cetaceans like dolphins also dig in the seafloor for food.
Further study of the stretch of land between Hawaii and Mexico is needed, though, because this initial study wasn't able to come to a complete conclusion.
There were two problems with the mystery grooves. For one, it couldn't be proven how long they'd been there. Science News reports that the timeline could only be narrowed to the last 28,000 years. So even if whales did make the grooves, they may not currently be calling the area a dinner buffet.
Additionally, the area the grooves were found was 3,999 meters to 4,258 meters down. According to the Natural History Museum, the longest recorded beaked whale dive was 2,992 meters, but 2,000 meters is the average.
Still, not much is known about beaked whales, since they spend most of their time in the deep ocean. A new beaked whale species was discovered as recently as 2016, according to BBC Earth.
It's definitely possible that there are beaked whales doing deeper dives that we just don't know about yet.
In any case, further exploration of the area is needed. Science News reported that research teams have been assessing the area since 2013. Now that the possibilities of whales exists, experts can use acoustic devices to see if any are actually using the area.
A whale confirmation could change the possibility of that portion of the seafloor being used for mining. But it could also give us valuable information about a little-studied group of whales.
Maybe they really can dive even deeper than we thought. Time and more science will help solve this deep-sea mystery.