The Hearing Clinic

Computers eavesdrop on fishy love songs.

It seems that, when the time is right, fish sing songs of love to attract a mate. And they don’t tend to enjoy big solos – preferring to vocalise in choruses which can even be heard from land at low frequencies. 

But it’s not just other fish who are listening. Biologists in California are eavesdropping on fish populations in the nearby Pacific Ocean to try to identify spawning seasons with a view to preserving fish populations and protecting marine health.

Capturing the recordings was just the beginning. Highly skilled acousticians would then need to listen to weeks or months of recordings to pick out the fish chorusing sounds – a process that itself might take weeks.

However, it looks like technology has successfully streamlined this time consuming process thanks to a breakthrough by a team at the University of California.

The team has now given the sifting and analysis job to computers – with much faster results. Using an innovation called SoundScape Learning, the computers find and learn to recognise types of sounds, including fish chorusing, by reviewing huge amounts of data recorded within the vast soundscape of the ocean. Computers have taken just days to listen to over five years of audio files – a job that would have taken a skilled acoustician at least a month.

The technology’s ability to produce results quickly has very positive implications for protecting fish and other marine animals. It could also be used to protect other animal populations too, from bats to frogs.

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