Fish Sing Songs Timed With The Moon

A team of researchers at the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Institute of Oceanography has found that fish sing songs timed with the moon.

Scientists have recorded the bustling sounds of underwater life in coral reefs off the coast of Goa, India, as part of a new study that revealed insights into marine biodiversity and detected a strange “buzz” call from a mysterious unidentified animal.

The research is part of a broader effort among marine biologists to use underwater sound recorders, known as hydrophones, to capture the soundscapes of aquatic wildlife around the world. Hydrophones can passively and non-invasively record underwater acoustics for days at a time, enabling scientists to eavesdrop on marine life to learn about their behavior, movements, and their response to environmental changes.

To better understand the rich reef ecosystems of Goa, a team of researchers at the Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Institute of Oceanography (CSIR-NIO) placed a hydrophone near Grande Island at a depth of about 65 feet. Over the course of several days, the instrument captured hundreds of recordings of the choruses of “soniferous” (sound-making) fish, the high-frequency noises of shrimp, and the rumblings of boats passing near the area.

The results unveiled fascinating details about this vibrant ecosystem that will be presented on Wednesday during a meeting on the International Quiet Ocean Experiment in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The research also appeared in a new study published by the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

“Our research, for the longest time, predominantly involved active acoustics systems in understanding habitats (bottom roughness, etc., using multibeam sonar),” said Bishwajit Chakraborty, a marine scientist at CSIR-NIO who co-authored the study, in an email to Motherboard. “By using active sonar systems, we add sound signals to water media which severely affects marine life.” 

“We realized that using passive acoustics, i.e., using hydrophones to record underwater soundscapes can enable us to record the underwater sounds and conduct our studies to learn more about the environment without adding any sound to the media that may impact the quality of life of underwater organisms,” he added.

The underwater soundscapes revealed that fish that feed on tiny ocean creatures called plankton clearly synced up their songs to the cycles of the Moon’s phases. With the help of machine learning, the researchers were also able to match hundreds of different calls to marine species, including drums, grunters, perches, and shrimp.

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