That is why Audrey Looby, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, University of Victoria collaborator Kieran Cox and an international team of researchers created FishSounds.net, the first online, interactive fish sounds repository of its kind.
“People are often surprised to learn that fish make sounds,” said Looby. “But you could make the case that they are as important for understanding fish as bird sounds are for studying birds.”
Image: Pink skunk anemonefish, one of the many fish that produces sound to communicate. Credit: Kieran Cox. Source: Phys.org
Visitors can listen to audio files, listen to sound visualisations, and more. The sounds of fish are grouped by species and sound name. When you click on the “boop” sound name, you’ll hear recordings of the Bocon toadfish, which is a close relative of the fish Looby is studying for her dissertation at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station in Cedar Key, Florida.
“There’s no standard system yet for naming fish sounds, so our project uses the sound names researchers have come up with,” Looby said. “And who doesn’t love a fish that boops?”
The authors of the collection aim to include a function that allows users to upload their own fish sound recordings. Other interactive elements are in the works, such as a globe map with clickable fish sound data points.
Fish evolved to create sound, according to scientists, since sound is an excellent method to communicate underwater. Sound travels quicker underwater than it does in air, ensuring that the message reaches an audience even in low-visibility situations.
Fish create noise in a variety of ways. Some animals, such as toadfish, have evolved organs or other structures in their bodies that make active noises, as defined by scientists. Other fish make unintentional or passive sounds, such as chewing or splashing, which also can carry information.
“Fish sounds contain a lot of important information,” said Looby, who is pursuing a doctorate in fisheries and aquatic sciences. “Fish may 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.”
For environmental monitoring, fisheries management, and conservation activities, knowing the location and movements of fish species is crucial. Hydrophones – special underwater microphones — might be used by marine, estuarine, and freshwater ecologists in the future to collect data on fish species’ locations. But first, they’ll need to figure out which fish they’re hearing, which is where the fish noises database comes in handy.
FishSounds.net was created as a result of the study team’s efforts to compile and analyse current scientific material on fish noises. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries recently released an article that summarised the research. The researchers looked at scientific records of fish noises dating back nearly 150 years in the article.
“There are probably a lot of fish sounds that just haven’t been recorded. That’s why we’ll continue to review new studies coming out and add them to the repository. This is truly is an international and global project with much more to come,” Cox said.