Fish "boops and grunts" immortalized online by Canadian researchers

Mar 2 2022, 8:23 pm

Fish have conversations and a group of researchers made a website to document them. 

It’s so much fun to peruse and probably the good news you need. Listen to a Bocon toadfish “boop” or this sablefish tick, which is slightly creepier, but still pretty cool. This streaked gurnard can growl, and this grumpy Atlantic cod can grunt.

But it’s more than just entertaining for humans; they need these sounds to communicate and detect their surroundings. 

Calling it a “global inventory of fish sounds,” ocean fans can spend hours listening to all the different noises made by various species. 

It’s the first time they’ve all been catalogued in one place, giving people around the world free access to learning about fishies’ underwater conversations.

The technical term for “fishy conversations” is “marine bioacoustics,” which is what Kieran Cox specializes in. They can be used to track, monitor, and learn more about aquatic wildlife.

The doctor of marine biology at the University of Victoria co-authored an article about fish sounds in Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries called “A Quantitative Inventory of Global Soniferous Fish Diversity.”

It presents findings from his process, helping create FishSounds.net. He and his team looked over over 3,000 documents from 834 studies to put together the library of 989 fish species.

Researchers from the UVic, the University of Florida, Universidade de São Paulo, and Marine Environmental Research Infrastructure for Data Integration and Application Network (MERIDIAN) collaborated to bring the project to life.

“This data is absolutely critical to our efforts. Without it, we were having a one-sided conversation about how noise impacts marine life,” said Cox. 

“Now we can better understand the contributions fish make to soundscapes and examine which species may be most impacted by noise pollution.” 

The avid scuba diver remembers hearing a parrotfish eating coral underwater during his first dive fondly.

“It’s thrilling to know we are now archiving vital ecological information and making it freely available to the public, I feel like my younger self would be very proud of this effort,” he said.

Audrey Looby, who co-authored the article, says the library offers important information to researchers too.

“Because 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 that can be very helpful monitoring environmental health,” she said.

Francis Juanes and Rodney Rountree were also on the UVic research team. Juanes says the inventory of fish noises is fixing a problem for scientists interested in the sea.

“The lack of a database on global fish acoustics has been a major limitation in the field of aquatic soundscapes,” Juanes said.

“We hope that FishSounds.net will transform the way researchers and the public think about ocean noise. This website brings us one step closer to understanding the diversity of sounds happening in aquatic habitats, and that’s extremely exciting.”

To sort through the noises, users can filter data by taxa, sound, region, and more.

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