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Fish sounds are important for conservation efforts

An international team has created, the first-ever online interactive database of fish sounds. Many people are familiar with bird songs, howling coyotes, and whale songs, and these sounds are well understood. Still, a lot of people don’t know that fish create sounds to communicate. 

“People are often surprised to learn that fish make sounds. But you could make the case that they are as important for understanding fish as bird sounds are for studying birds,” said Audrey Looby, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Scientists have been listening to fish sounds for almost 150 years. Nearly one thousand fish species actively produce noises like the “croaking” sounds of the toad fishes, and several hundred make passive sounds like splashing and chewing. Kieran Cox of the University of Victoria believes that we will find more species that make sound with further research. 

So why do fish make noises? Some scientists believe that they do so because sound is a practical way to communicate in water, which provides excellent acoustics. 

Since many fish species live in murky waters where other forms of communication are challenging, sound allows them to still send messages to each other. Moreover, fish have a lot to talk about. 

“Fish sounds contain a lot of important information,” explained Looby. “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.”

Sounds created by fish communication could provide conservationists and managers with another way to monitor fish. With the help of fish sound databases, like, the hope is that ecologists could use specialized underwater microphones called hydrophones to find out where fish are and perhaps gain more insight into the inner world of fish.

The research is published in the journal Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries.

By Erin Moody, Staff Writer

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