Scientists study marine fish sounds

Fish, it turns out, is a lot of chat. They communicate with each other about everything from which waters have the best food to where predators can hide and, of course, their desire for a mate.

Now, researchers from universities in Canada, the United States, and Brazil have come together to create an online portal called FishSounds that allows people to sift through a list of marine noises. People can listen to the underwater recording and learn that the snapper makes a rattle, while the orange stork makes a drumming sound.

Sarah Vela, senior data manager for Dalhousie University’s marine environmental research group and lead developer of the portal, says FishSounds provides researchers with information about whether a fish species can cause harm. noise or not, along with its geographic extent.

“It’s a dataset that has never existed before. While there are a lot of projects working with killer whale noise, right whale noise,” she said. “Fish is one that’s underrated.”

Vela says scientists use underwater phones or underwater microphones to monitor and record these sounds, which will then be identified by an expert. The project also involves teaching computers to associate sounds with certain fish species to build machine learning.

The portal includes data on about 1,200 fish species compiled from scientific literature and other sources. Of those, 1,061 have been shown to produce some sort of detectable sound, said a study published by the portal’s creators last month in the journal Ecological Informatics. The site so far keeps records of more than 260 species of fish.

The ability to remotely sense active and passive fish acoustics through passive acoustic monitoring offers the opportunity to answer many questions related to ecology, evolution and management in the environment, the study said. marine, brackish and freshwater environments”.

Co-author Kieran Cox of Simon Fraser University said sound is a vehicle for fish to exchange large amounts of information, just like humans. This exchange of information is important, he said, because the deeper the ocean gets, the darker it gets and isn’t always visually interactive.

“Fish sing a lot longer than birds sing,” says Cox. “And I just want to say it from an evolutionary perspective.”

While diving to study fish sounds in Belize, he said he could hear fish chewing on coral and seagrass near a reef.

“There’s a certain element of that audio scene that I think we’re all aware of, but then you can’t really appreciate unless you know what you’re listening to.”

Fish make two kinds of sounds: active and passive, he said. Active sounds are intentionally created using the mouth or other body parts and may involve the release of bubbles, the control of various muscles to make certain noises, or to move. surrounding bone to make a repetitive clicking sound. He added that others make a sound like the beating of a drum with their swimming bubbles.

The common fin sturgeon, a fish found in the eastern Pacific Ocean, spends most of its life at depths but enters the intertidal zone to breed, with males building nests for females to lay eggs in. . Cox says males make distinct humming noises to attract mates.

“Basically, the name of the game with the nest is to build almost like an amphitheater. Think of it like a concert hall, if you will. It’s a nest on a rock wall where they sing. They use this to attract mates, and females come to lay eggs in these nests. The number of eggs they lay for a male will be proportional to the quality of their song, the length of their song. their song and how much they can hear it outside the nest. It’s really a whole noise-powered interaction,” Cox said.

“If you’re on a beach at night and these fish are present, you can hear them humming all night.”

Passive sounds are sounds that are created by chance as they occur in everyday life, such as chewing or digging.

“You can imagine that if a fish were enjoying a good meal, that would make a lot of noise, and that noise provides valuable information to other fish nearby,” he said. .

“There are 34,000 species of fish in the world, and scientists know that more than 1,000 species make some sort of noise and contribute to it,” he said. But the sea has many more secrets about fish sounds that scientists have yet to uncover.

Learning about fish sounds will help scientists understand, conserve and restore habitats drowned by noise from boats, he said. It could also help understand fish behavior as the climate changes, with some regions of the ocean warming faster than others, Cox said.

“There is a biological noise of sound in the ocean,” he said. “If we don’t understand that, then we won’t understand how it’s changing as we generate large amounts of noise pollution. We won’t understand how we can conserve either. it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 24, 2023.


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