Underwater sound library

A global library of underwater sound recordings can help us understand and preserve aquatic species
07 March 2022


Underwater Coral


Researchers are compiling a library of underwater sounds to document and preserve aquatic animals...

Scientists suspect that all aquatic mammals make sounds. The calls of whales and dolphins, for instance, are often studied and described as languages unique to different local communities or even individuals. But not only do aquatic mammals make sounds, so do fish and inverterbrates. 

Many fish make sounds for territorial displays or courtship rituals, and there are a variety of methods used to produce sound. For some fish, a sonic muscle vibrates or drums on the swim bladder, which is an internal gas-filled organ to control buoyancy. An example is the plainfin midshipman fish, where the males produce a loud hum during the mating season to attract females who tune in to the specific sound.

Other fish use parts of their skeletons to make sounds, such as clicking teeth together or rubbing fringial teeth in their throats. Fish may also make passive sounds: parrot fish "crunch" and seahorses make clicks as they eat.

Invertebrates also produce both active and passive sounds. Snapping shrimp actively click their claws together to make loud snapping pops, which can be heard around tropical coral reefs where they live; and oysters make passive shuffling and creaking sounds as their shells bump together.

It can be difficult to see aquatic animals in some environments owing to poor visibility in the water, or lack of light. But sounds can nevertheless cut through and provide important clues on the biodiversity of a habitat as well as information on migratory routes and changes in behaviour. This means the soundscape can be used to keep tabs on who is about, when, and in what sorts of numbers, making trends such as responses to climate change, easier to track.

To take advantage of this, an international team of collaborators are assembling a universal library of all underwater biological sounds. Dubbed GLUBS - global library of biological sounds - this open-access initiative wiss provide a reference database of all documented and identified sounds. It will also be used to train artificial intelligence (AI) systems to recognise the underwater sounds of different species, spot new and unknown sounds so their sources can be tracked down, and to map densities and locations of species worldwide. Citizen scientists will also be encouraged to join in by contributing their own sound recordings.

Finished, this global library will help scientists to track what aquatic species are present, how many are there, where they are found, and how the status quo is changing on a global scale in the face of threats like climate change, pollution, human encroachment and pressure from invasive species, all of which are critical to conservation efforts.

Sounds good, doesn't it!


Add a comment