Underwater voices: It’s not all whales and dolphins

Aquatic species that omit sound chronicled in digital database

Scientists looking to solve underwater mysteries have more valuable information at hand, thanks to a new inventory of animal species known or expected to produce sound underwater.

Most people are familiar with whale or dolphin sounds but are often surprised to learn that many fish and invertebrates use sounds to communicate, too, said Audrey Looby of the University of Florida Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences who led up the project.

Over 700 aquatic mammals, other tetrapods, fish and invertebrates that produce active or passive sounds have been documented by working group Global Library of Underwater Biological Sounds, which collaborated with the World Register of Marine Species.

In addition, the inventory includes another 21,911 species that are considered to likely produce sounds.

With more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface cov- ered in water, most of the planet’s habitats are aquatic.

But there is a misconception that most aquatic or- ganisms are silent.

The newly published digital database is the first of its kind. Researchers say it can revolutionize marine and aquatic science.

“Eavesdropping on underwater sounds can reveal a plethora of information about the species that produce them and is useful for a variety of applications, ranging from fisheries management, invasive species detection, improved restoration outcomes, and assessing human environmental impacts,” said Looby, who also co-cre- ated FishSounds, which offers a comprehensive, global inventory of fish sound production research.

The team’s research, “Global Inventory of Species Categorized by Known Underwater Sonifery,” was pub- lished in December in Scientific Data and involved 19 authors from six countries, funding from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and centuries of scientific effort to document underwater sounds.

“Understanding how marine species interact with their environments is of global importance, and this data being freely available is a major step toward that goal,” said Kieran Cox, a member of the research team and a National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada fellow.

“Our dataset helps demonstrate how widespread underwater sound production really is across a variety of animals, but also that we still have a lot to learn,” she said.