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Fin whale in the Gulf of Maine, North Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Francois Gohier/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The echoes of fin whale songs can penetrate sediment and volcanic rock on the ocean floor, according to new research.

Why it matters: Fin whale songs could be used to map the Earth's crust when conventional — and in some cases, controversial — methods like firing seismic air guns from ships may not be available.

  • “It’s never going to replace air guns,” study co-author Václav Kuna of the Institute of Geophysics in Prague told the NYT.
  • “But it is a complement. And it’s free.”

Fin whales are loud — their low-frequency calls can generate more than 185 decibels underwater, on par with a large ship.

  • Researchers typically use the endangered whales' low-frequency vocalizations to study the distribution of the species (Balaenoptera physalus) in the oceans.

What they did: Kuna and John Nábelek of Oregon State University analyzed six whale songs, each with 212–593 calls that were 30–40 seconds apart.

  • The calls were picked up by a network of seismometers on the ocean floor that monitor for earthquakes off the coast of Oregon. (The researchers suggest machine learning algorithms could be used to locate and analyze calls.)
  • Part of the energy in the whales' calls is "transmitted in the ground as a seismic wave. The seismic wave travels through the oceanic crust, where it is reflected and refracted by layers within the crust," the researchers write today in the journal Science.
  • They were able to use those signals to map the thickness of sediment and rock on the ocean floor.

Yes, but: It has its limits — for example, the method worked best in relatively flat regions and the resolution of seismic images constructed from the whales' low-frequency signals was lower than the conventional air gun method.

  • The broader-frequency calls of sperm whales may produce higher-resolution imaging, the researchers suggest.

The big picture: "Our study demonstrates that animal vocalizations are useful not only for studying the animals themselves but also for investigating the environment that they inhabit," the researchers write.

Go deeper

Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.