While the sounds of many animals are already well documented (such as bird calls or whale songs), the enormous variety of sounds emitted by fish have been largely ignored by the scientific community until recently. However, an international team of researchers has now created a website called FishSounds – the first such online interactive repository, where visitors can browse audio files, sound visualizations, and more.
“People are often surprised to learn that fish make sounds,” said Audrey Looby, a doctoral student at the University of Florida. “But you could argue that they’re as important to understanding fish as bird sounds are to studying birds.”
Fish make noises in different ways. Some species, like the toad, have evolved organs or other structures in their bodies that produce what scientists call “active sounds.” Others produce only incidental or “passive” sounds, such as chewing or splashing. However, even these types of sounds can convey important information.
According to scientists, fish have evolved to make these various sounds because sound is a very effective way to communicate underwater. Since sound travels faster underwater than it does through air, it’s an excellent means of communication for sea creatures. “Fish sounds contain a lot of important information,” Looby said. “Fish can communicate about territory, predators, food and reproduction. And when we can match fish sounds to fish species, their sounds are a kind of calling card that can tell us what kinds of fish are in an area and what they are doing.
Knowing the location or movement patterns of different fish species is crucial for environmental monitoring, fisheries management, and conservation efforts. In the future, scientists and conservation activists may use hydrophones (special types of underwater microphones) to collect data regarding the distribution of fish species. However, they will first need to be able to identify the fish they hear.
Looby and his colleagues hope that this new online database will play a major role in facilitating this process. The website’s creators plan to add functionality that will allow users to submit their own fish sound recordings, as well as other interactive features, such as a world map with clickable fish sound data points.
By Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Personal editor