Experts from nine countries are planning to collect and combine aquatic animal sounds for a global library. Scientists in Australia believe an undersea chorus of mammals, fish and some invertebrates will help them gauge the health of marine ecosystems.
Songs by bearded seals and the “boing” of a minke whale are part of a global collection being put together for the first time by a team of international researchers.
The samples are stored in the individual libraries of various institutions, but never before have they been curated in a single collection.
All marine mammals, including the humpback whale, are thought to emit sounds, along with many fish and invertebrates. A new data bank aims to use these recordings to measure biodiversity and the health of ecosystems.
Miles Parsons, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the lead author of a report on the databank, says animal sounds can indicate the health of an ecosystem.
“When you are talking about things like soundscapes, there is a lot of work recently that has been done to tease out the acoustic characteristics of a soundscape to be able to identify the type of habitat that it is and even start to look at the quality of the habitat. There has been some work recently where they have looked at the difference between degraded coral reefs and healthy coral reefs and the differences in the soundscapes that you have between those. There’s lots of different applications that you can get from this, from passive acoustic monitoring.”
The mulloway is one of the loudest fish in the world. Of the 34,000 known species of fish, only 1,000 have had their sounds documented.
Researchers use highly sophisticated ocean hydrophones, or underwater microphones, to record sounds. Amateur divers have used underwater cameras to record the squeaks and groans of marine life, and they submit their findings to academics.
And some birds reportedly make underwater noises.
Scientists believe that pollution and warming temperatures are changing underwater acoustics.
The research paper “Sounding the Call for a Global Library of Biological Underwater Sounds” was published in the journal “Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.”
It is a collaboration between experts from various countries, including Britain, China, New Zealand and the United States.