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Sounding out fish communication


 
For information about how and how well fish hear, please click here.
All recordings of the sounds of sea creatures are from Rob McCauley and relate to his interview recording 'Sea creature chatter'.

 
Play  Sea creature chatter  wsRob McCauleysounds sea.mp3  
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Play  Fish Kimberley  Fish_Kimberley.mp3  
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Play  Fish hooting  Fish_Hooting.mp3  
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Play  Fish Mulloway  Fish_MakeMULLOWAY SWAN.mp3  
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Play  Fish Hervey Bay  Fish_hba_123.mp3  
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Play  Fish Canyon Chorus  Fish CANYON CHORUS.mp3  
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Play  Humpback Whale Kimberley  Humpback_Kimberley.mp3  
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Play  Humpback Whales, Hervey Bay  Humpbacks_HBay2close-112-0423.mp3  
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Play  Minke Whale Antarctic  MinkeWhaleAntarctic.mp3  
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Play  Dwarf Minke Whale  MinkeWhaleDwarf_2.mp3  
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Associate Professor Rob McCauley, from Curtin University, investigates the sound of the seas, with surprising results. Most people don’t realise that the ocean is a cacophony of noise, many animals making noise both deliberately and incidentally. They use noise to communicate over distances from centimetres to 100km and, in rare specialised circumstances, even across ocean basins, as great whales do.
A hydrophone, an underwater microphone, can pick up these sounds but identification of the source is not always easy. There are always other noises (rocks rolling on the bottom, rainfall, wind) making the origin of noises more problematic. Most animals make a reasonably stereotyped sound which can then be attributed to a particular animal, like a whale or fish. Sharks and rays make no sounds apart from swimming noises. Different fish species tend to make different noises, most having a repertoire of six signals. There are usually one or two common signals which the fish repeat ad nauseum when they are active. Some fish are active during the day but those that are active at night make a lot of noise, given that they need to find their way around in the dark. Fish also have specialised sound reception in their ears to hear these noises. Feeding times also produce sounds as part of that feeding behaviour, a common sound that is heard after dusk or through the evening. Fish tend to get into groups and all call together producing a chorusing effect which can be heard 8km away under water and even above water on a boat. Chorusing during the day is partitioned, with different species chorusing at different times, unlike the night chorusing. The noises are produced inside their swim bladders (a gas bubble) when the fish drum these swim bladders. The noises are limited. They can make drum noises, taps or pops but different species of fish have different swim bladders and so make different types of noises. There is a trade-off to the chorusing that happens for reproduction as it attracts predators as well as mates. Fish form schools for reproduction purposes, making several types of sounds in those choruses. One is an advertisement sound to join the school and with several thousand fish all calling this increases the catchment area. Within the chorus there are male and female advertising calls and calls that regulate the release of eggs and sperm into the water column. This is done in pitch black water in a high current area. Whales can contain gas in their lung spaces which can be shunted across membranes, vibrating them to make sounds. Great whales fill a large bubble and oscillate it to produce different noises, some of which can be phenomenally intense and complicated. Humpback whales probably have the most complicated song of any marine animal, the song having 40 individual components which they string together in different patterns. Humpbacks call independently, each song lasting from 5-15 minutes. Different components also travel different distances, some being close (1km) and others being long distance. Male humpbacks will sing alongside females and all the effort of making the song can be felt some 200m away. Dolphins produce tiny clicks which they use to echo locate to investigate their surroundings in a 100m range.
They have extraordinarily accurate discrimination of their targets, telling live fish from dead fish and even imaging objects from long range. They also produce another set of sounds which are vocal, social whistles, each whistle being unique to an individual dolphin. Dolphins, like humans, have larynxes and shunt the air back and forth over these vocal folds, to make the whistles. Each sound passes through an acoustic lens in their foreheads which focuses the sound into a narrow cone before it exits from the top of their heads. The heads of sperm whales are basically an entire acoustic lens, full of fat, which focuses these sounds. All in all, Associate Professor Rob McCauley has produced some very sound research.

Summary text by Victor Barry September 2015  

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