March 28, 2012 at 3:13 PM ET
A torpedo-shaped robot that bobbed up and down along the Florida coast to map sound production by red grouper and toadfish has detected what appears to be the unmistakable sound of herring passing gas.
That is, a robot heard what scientists believe to be fish farts.
"This remains merely a hypothesis, an untested but logical idea," Carrie Wall, a graduate student in marine biology at the University of South Florida who led the study, told me in an email today.
"We can't say (and haven't said) with any certainty that that is in fact the source of what we have termed the 6 kHz Sound," she added.
But all signs do appear to point in the direction of herring farts. Such sounds have been descried before, noted Wall, who sent me in the direction of a post on Improbable Research, the organization that hands out the Ig Nobels. Two papers on herring farts earned that distinguished prize in 2004.
"Our hypothesis is potentially likely as menhaden and other species related to herring are present in our study area and the 6 kHz Sound has similar characteristics to the findings of the previous research," Wall told me.
The "6 KHz Sound" she refers to are at the least "three unknown biological sounds" documented by their one week survey along the West Florida Shelf, Wall and her colleagues report this week in the journal Marine Ecology Research.
The mystery sound is in addition to the detection of the more familiar grunts and whistles of red grouper and toadfish that typically make sound in the range from 100 Hz to 2000 Hz.
"6 kHz is far above that frequency range, suggesting that an alternative method of sound production (such as gas release) is responsible for this sound," Wall said.
"However, without further research, we won't know for sure."
--Via Discovery News
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.