‘Grums, grunts and buzzes’: British Columbia researchers help compile online database of fish sounds

Some fish growl, some growl, and some scream. These fish sounds – and many more – are part of a new database created by researchers who hope that cataloging the sounds will lead to a better understanding of marine ecosystems and the health of aquatic life.

“The reality is that there are 34,000 species of fish in the world and we are learning very quickly that many of them contribute to aquatic soundscapes,” said Kieran Cox, one of the BC-based researchers at the origin of FishSounds.net.

It is the first online database of its kind that makes public all known recordings of underwater fish sounds – over 200 to date – including those related to mating, communication, looking for food or eating food.

The researchers behind the project say having a free, open-source database of fish sounds will make it easier to use sound to track where fish are and what they are doing.

WATCH | Videos captured by researchers show some of the sounds fish make underwater

7:04Growls, Screams, Boops and Growls: Experience the Underwater Soundscape

An international team of researchers has created an online database of fish sounds. This includes researchers affiliated with UVic, such as Kieran Cox. He completed his PhD at UVic last year and is now a Liber Ero and NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow at SFU. He spoke with Kathryn Marlow. 7:04

For example, one species, the freshwater drum, which is considered an invasive species by some experts, emits a distinctive drum-like sound called a choir. Cox says the fish could be tracked using underwater microphones to give a better idea of ​​their movements.

“Anyone who studies invasive species knows that’s one of the biggest challenges, tracking where they are, tracking their movement patterns to try to figure that out,” Cox said.

Cox, who completed his doctorate at the University of Victoria last year and is now Liber Ero and an NSERC postdoctoral fellow at SFU, worked with other researchers in the United States and Brazil on the project.

One of FishSounds’ collaborators, Kieran Cox, returns from deploying a hydrophone in a rockfish conservation area off the coast of British Columbia. (Hailey Davies)

They reviewed more than 3,000 documents and data from 834 studies in multiple languages ​​from 1874 to 2020 to determine that 989 species of fish produce active sounds such as buzzes, grunts and growls. There are thousands of species that have yet to be studied.

“Sounds are a kind of business card”

The team then accessed federal funding for the Marine Environmental Research Infrastructure of Canada for Data Integration and Application (MERIDIAN) to create the website so that recorded sounds and inputs scientists can be freely available online.

Audrey Looby, who studies water noise at the University of Florida and was part of the project, said making the sounds available to the public and other researchers will help scientists and citizens better understand landscapes. aquatic.

“Because we can match fish sounds to fish species, their sounds are a kind of business card that can tell us what types of fish are in an area and that can be very useful for monitoring environmental health.” , she said in a statement from the University. of Victoria.

For example, if a species does not make noises associated with its normal behavior, researchers might look for stress in the environment affecting the species.

A kelp greenling photographed in the waters off British Columbia. It is part of the FishSounds.net database. (Kieran Cox)

Several other studies over the past decade, including some in which Cox was involved, have shown that noise from human activities in marine environments can negatively affect marine life.

Cox hopes that knowing more about the sounds made by fish will help scientists better understand what happens when animal noise and human noise interact with each other.

“And understand that the ocean is this incredibly diverse soundscape where we contribute to it, the fish contribute to it and it’s a two-way relationship,” he said. “When we introduce noise pollution, we change the soundscapes.”

Looby and Cox recently wrote about fish sounds as co-authors of a paper titled “A Quantitative Inventory of Global Soniferous Fish Diversity published in Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries.

The journal says that despite hundreds of sounds uploaded to FishSounds.net, some 96% of fish species have not been examined for the sounds they make and how they contribute to their behavior and health.

The researchers behind FishSounds.net hope to add new recordings to the database regularly.

Scientists have created a new online database of fish sounds that they hope will make it easier to track fish and study their behavior. 0:26