In a world-first international effort marine experts have come together to create a library of the rich sounds from below the sea—a landscape containing the world’s most diverse habitats—to monitor and bolster the resilience of marine life.
The significance of this project is that by eavesdropping on visually elusive but vocal species, scientists can capture the many nocturnal or hard to find animals which are visually difficult to observe.
The team’s observations have seen marine sounds emerge from profound tranquility including the unexpected shuffle of a New Zealand paddle crab, the distinctive “boing” of a minke whale, and a crackling of a Kina sea urchin.
The 17 experts from nine countries have set the goal to record the sea soundscapes that will allow them to monitor changes in underwater life, including migration patterns, responses to natural and man-made ocean noise pollution, and identifying new species.
Lead author Miles Parsons, who is the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s (AIMS) marine acoustics scientist, said the team has so far accumulated millions of recording hours from oceans, rivers, and reefs around the world.
“Using the acoustic properties of underwater soundscapes, we can characterise an ecosystem’s type and condition,” he said.
“With biodiversity in decline worldwide, and humans relentlessly altering underwater soundscapes, we need to document, quantify, and understand the sources of underwater animal sounds before they potentially disappear.”
Jesse Ausubel, a founder of the IQOE and a scientist at The Rockefeller University said that “human song varieties include love and work songs, lullabies, chants, and anthems.”
“Marine animals must sing love songs. Maybe the library can help us understand the lyrics of these and many others,” he said.
The team will provide open access to this huge collection of sounds from oceanic environments, paving the way to transform the study of marine life.
Because the task of identifying unknown sounds is immense, the scientists will be using artificial intelligence to help detect, classify, and develop sound maps.
Advances in underwater recording technology mean that citizen scientists and people who love the ocean can also participate in the project.