The ocean and the rivers and lakes together represent the largest habitat on earth. What is mostly hidden to us humans is the variety of sounds produced by aquatic animals. They communicate with each other and make sounds, for example, when feeding or moving around. And they are increasingly exposed to anthropogenic, potentially harmful underwater noise. An initiative of 17 international experts will now create a global library of underwater sounds to monitor the changing environment and provide information for marine conservation.
The “Global Library of Underwater Biological Sounds” project, or GLUBS for short, was presented a few days ago in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution by the 17 experts, including a scientist from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. The library will include the characteristic sounds of marine mammals such as whales and seals, as well as fish, invertebrates and crustaceans.
Visual observations of marine animals and freshwater inhabitants usually involve a high effort and are difficult to realize, especially for nocturnal species. Therefore, researchers have been working with passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) for many years; that is, recording the sounds of animals underwater using hydrophones (underwater microphones). They gain an overview of the changing diversity, distribution and abundance of animals, for example, and can also identify new species without disturbing the animals. Using the acoustic properties of the underwater soundscape, they intend to characterize the nature and condition of ecosystems. In the study, the authors speak of many millions of hours of underwater sounds that have already been recorded worldwide, some of which are still waiting to be analyzed.
Given the global decline in biodiversity, one of the greatest problems of our time, and the inexorable changes in underwater sounds caused by humans, the author team emphasizes the importance of documenting, quantifying, and understanding the sources of underwater biological sounds before they threaten to possibly disappear.
The new platform, which will integrate existing libraries from around the world, will provide a freely accessible reference library of known and unknown biological sound sources. It will also include a training platform for artificial intelligence algorithms to detect and classify sounds, enable scientists to create species distribution maps, and provide a citizen science-based application for public users.
Existing recordings to be included in GLUBS include those from AWI’s PALAOA underwater listening station in Antarctica, which regularly records humpback whales, minke whales and other marine mammals. Scientists believe that all 126 marine mammals make sounds. Of the approximately 250,000 known marine species, at least 100 invertebrates and 1,000 of the 34,000 known fish species make sounds.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Link to study: Miles J. G. Parsons, Tzu-Hao Lin, T. Aran Mooney et al: Sounding the Call for a Global Library of Underwater Biological Sounds, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2022.810156
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