Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, mostly) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. 

Bioacoustics helps find what may be a new beaked whale speciesthis one was hard to miss this week, as it was all over the pop press news as well. Here’s the original article. Passive acoustic monitoring in the Antarctic found echolocation and communication signals that were beaked-whale-esque, but unlike species seen before this. It might be a new species!

Cicadas and birds partition acoustic space in the tropicsI think the acoustic niche hypothesis is really neat, and it’s cool to see it in practice. Bird species and cicadas in the tropics vocalize at similar frequencies, so birds avoided calling when cicadas were calling. If they did call during cicada song, birds changed their frequency to avoid overlap.

Fun link of the weekMichelle had an awesome post last week about paleo-bioacoustics (what a field name!), so continuing in that theme, let’s talk about terror birds. Have you guys seen a terror bird skull before? Terrifying. This new research suggests that they had low voices and were better at perceiving low-frequency sounds. This means we’re one step closer to my dream, knowing what dinosaurs actually sounded like…

I came across an interesting video clip today unpacking the anatomy of sound production in Neanderthals. Generally we think of Neanderthals as having low-pitched ‘grunt’ like voices (at least this is how the media/film portrays them); as it turns out this may be a misrepresentation of the Neanderthal voice. Watch the short clip below to hear more specifically what I mean:

It is an interesting stereotype that mighty animals have deeper voices (think about lions, elephants, even humans), and this description of a clearly mighty species (Neanderthals were pretty amazing, so well adapted to their freezing environment!) doesn’t fit the trend. I won’t unpack stereotypes in this blog post (though I welcome you to read more about them on my friend and labmate Niki’s post); I do however encourage you to listen to the voices around you, including your own, and let your mind take in the range of sounds, expressions, and informational nuances that our human voice can produce.

An amazing instrument.

Soundbites is a weekly (less often when Danielle is doing fieldwork) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. No April Foolin’ here, just cool research (because Danielle hates April Fools. Seriously.).

Grasshoppers have trouble localizing mates in noisy conditionsanother tale in the continuing story of how noise screws up mating for lots of different taxa. Grasshoppers can locate mates by sound very well in quiet conditions, but it takes more time and energy to do it in noisy conditions.

Using passive acoustic monitoring to document sperm whale predation on fishing grounds worksI saw this as a talk at last year’s Acoustical Society of America meeting, and it was just as cool then. Collaboration with fishermen is allowing researchers to document sperm whale depredation, all using passive acoustic monitoring. This also allows them to easily test new deterrent methods.

Fun link of the week: you guys. Look at this weird-sounding bird I found for you. This bird is so weird. I heard it described as the red-alert sound from Star Trek and I agree. (also, look, I finally figured out how to embed YouTube videos!)

A couple weeks ago I volunteered to be Danielle’s field assistant for the evening. All of the acoustics fieldwork I have helped with in the past has been on a boat, so I was happy to put aside my dead-week studying to learn a little bit about acoustics research on land. It also didn’t hurt that Danielle is well versed in field assistant bribery (Burgerville! Cookies!)

We headed out of town just after five pm, driving north past Albany to the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. Danielle has a number of pond sites she visits on a rotating basis, Ankeny contains one.

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We arrived at the pond in daylight and got right to work counting egg masses in the first study area. Since the egg masses are tricky to spot, it’s easier to work during the day. Together we walked in straight lines across the (shallow) pond for half an hour counting all of the egg masses we could see. Since the egg masses are so tiny, Danielle and I both had to hunch over to see into the pond, sometimes using our hands to confirm a sighting.

I hope someone buys Danielle a massage after her field season is over.
I hope someone buys Danielle a massage after her field season is over.

After we finished our survey effort, we shared some snacks and hung out until nighttime when the frogs started chorusing. When it was fully dark, we put on our waders and headed to a second pond to try and catch some adult frogs. I wasn’t very good at it (the frogs are so tiny and speedy) but Danelle caught a bunch and I helped her weigh and measure them. Finally it was time to record the chorusing!

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Earlier in the day I asked Danielle if recording the frogs was a peaceful experience, similar to how I feel when I hear a whale on my hydrophone recordings. She hesitantly told me that sometimes it is…but often the frogs are are too loud for any sort of relaxation. It’s hard to believe that such a loud noise can come out of an animal that is hardly bigger than a quarter, but she was not kidding…

 

Next time in sharing our research…Danielle goes to sea!

Soundbites is a weekly (less often when Danielle is doing fieldwork) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. 

Primate vocal divergence and speciation: a cool study on tamarins in South America documenting how vocal divergence might lead to reproductive isolation in two subspecies, meaning that they might actually end up being different species altogether.

Atlantic spotted dolphins can change the depth of field of their echolocation: these researchers found dynamic changes in the way this species focuses its echolocation, especially as prey gets closer. Neat example of convergent evolution with bats!

Hong Kong’s pink dolphin population shifting to avoid vessel traffic: an already threatened population is getting even more stressed by vessel traffic, and is moving to be less disturbed.

Fun link of the weekthis has basically nothing to do with acoustics, except it’s a song on an acoustic guitar. But yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought I’d give you a biologist’s take on the holiday.

First, let me apologize for being a little late with this post. I generally post the second Friday of every month; It’s Tuesday. One of the reasons I’m late is because I flew back to my hometown in Birmingham, Alabama as an invited teacher at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School. I had the privilege of running three lessons on whale communication for students ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. Admittedly they kept me on my toes! Spending time with children is exciting and inspiring.

We did a number of activities to demonstrate how marine mammals use sound to communicate. Students were given a small shaker containing one of four materials (hazelnuts, tacks, aduki beans, or rice) and they had to use their ears alone to find their “pods”. We had fin whales, humpback whales, killer whales, and beluga whales. Each pod was then given a ribbon the length of their whale to stretch out across the activity room. Even I was impressed with how big a fin whale really is.

For the older groups we talked about the relationship between size and pitch (frequency), learned how to read spectrograms, and I introduced the concept of masking and noise pollution by playing a series of whale calls and adding vessel noise. For the kindergartners and first graders, however, it seemed more appropriate to introduce the concept of sound in the ocean with a story. I re-purposed a true story about a killer whale from Puget Sound named Springer who was separated from, and later reunited with her pod. In real life recordings were made of Springer’s vocalizations to help identify which pod she belonged to. In the story below, Springer uses her family whistle to try and re-connect, and she meets a number of other whales along the way. On each page I was able to play recordings of the animals in the pictures, so my young students could hear the actual voices of the animals. Enjoy!

 

 

Soundbites is a weekly (less often when Danielle is doing fieldwork) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Yes, I know it’s been awhile. I’ll try to make this one extra awesome to make up for it.

Dolphins have social food calls: it turns out that humans aren’t the only ones to gossip about our food (see anyone’s Instagram feed ever). These researchers found that wild bottlenose dolphins had particular social calls that were highly correlated with food calls, and didn’t occur otherwise. Dolphins might therefore be sharing information about the food patch itself.

Invasive cane toad calls change the calling patterns of native Australian frogs: as I’m deep in frog fieldwork, you just knew I’d have some frog news for you. Invasive species are bad as it is (and cane toads are particularly bad), but they might also be changing the way native species communicate. Here, one native species decreased their call rate with playback of cane toad calls. I hope these authors extend this work with observational studies, there’s a lot of potential here.

Birds shift the frequency of non-breeding calls above noise: we’ve heard about birds shifting their frequency before, but only with breeding calls. Here, black-capped chickadees (a local species) and American goldfinches both shifted their non-breeding calls (described as “chickadeedeedee” and “po-tay-to-chip”, which I love) above the frequency of urban noise.

Fun link of the week: apropos of absolutely nothing at all, did you guys know that sand dunes sing!??!?! Not only do they sing, they sound creepy! Someone needs to work on some weird ambient music with the stuff, stat!

I live only a couple blocks away from a busy section of railway, and every time I hear a train go by I am reminded of my work. You might think this is strange because my research is not related to trains, but it is not the train itself that reminds me…it is the blaring horn.

I am interested in looking at how noise in the ocean is disruptive to the animals that live there. Although it may be a bit anthropomorphic to say that my experience of a passing train outside my house is similar to a marine mammal in a shipping lane, many studies agree that noise (especially loud noise) is very disruptive.

In addition to weather and other animals, human activity such as shipping and fishing adds a great amount of noise to the ocean environment. And now the United States may to add even more noise by opening up new areas for oil drilling. Of course, drilling in the ocean is not new, but time and experience shows that it is not without problems. From searching for reserves, to rig installation, to the actual extraction, drilling is noisy and invasive.

Ocean drilling is a hot topic in recent news, but not every article mentions noise. As our government moves towards decisions about oil drilling in new areas, I hope that noise will become a larger part of the conversation.


Disclaimer: The aim of this post is to spread information, not start a debate. Politics are complicated and this is not my platform to share personal opinions.

Well… it’s that time of year again. I see little flashes of red out of the corner of my eye  when I’m out walking; everyone in my Ecological Stats class is talking about it, some with dread, some with stars in their eyes.  The air is abuzz with courtship, pretty little love songs, and dare I say it… hormones?

That’s right.  The red-winged blackbirds are back.

What?  You thought I was talking about some silly holiday?! Tsk tsk.

Let’s be serious.  Spring seems to be coming early this year in Oregon (see Danielle’s post about the heavy rain, warm weather, and early frog calls) and the blackbirds are no exception.  Red-winged blackbird males sing for a multitude of reasons, but most are  directly related to securing and maintaining a mate (and the territory to defend her, house her, and raise lovely red-winged blackbird babies).  The part of this whole ordeal that I love most however is the song. Red winged blackbirds produce one of my favorite bird songs, while not as complex as say a Pacific Wren or a Song Sparrow, it might be one of the loveliest sounds on earth. Go on, have a listen.

 

Admittedly, I am not a bird song (or bird call) aficionado.  I’m not even a novice birder, but I do love the morning chorus when I walk by the river, and the evening chorus when I ride my bike home.  It is one of the perks of living in the Willamette Valley. As you likely know, however, I am a marine acoustic ecologist by training (see my earlier post on SeaBASS), and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that blackbirds aren’t the only boys singing right now.

It’s breeding season for northern hemisphere humpback whales, and males in the tropics and sub-tropics can be heard singing in nearly any hour of the day.  Thanks to the Jupiter Project anyone with a broadband connection can listen to the live feed of a hydrophone in the Hawaiian Islands here. By contrast in the high Arctic male bearded seals are singing in and around the sea ice- presumably to establish and defend breeding territories… and impress lady-seals too. Listen to their strange love-song below.

 

While I eschew Valentine’s Day in general, it does bring me great joy that some of our most genuine expressions of human love, love songs, are something that we share with many animal species.  So while I’m unlikely to set aside my Saturday bonfire plans in favor of candy hearts, when I head out this weekend to walk my wild pups by the river and I hear the blackbird singing, I might for a moment imagine he is singing for me.

Have a wonderful weekend friends.

 

 

***Follow my monthly blog posts here, or check out my personal blog mfournet.wordpress.com for a comprehensive look at my research world***

“Danielle,” I hear you asking, “I’ve been missing my weekly dose of the coolest bioacoustics news! What happened? Where is my fun link of the week??”

Well, bioacoustics friends, field season is what happened.

My frogs are calling and so I must follow them. They seem to have started early this year, probably due to our relatively warm weather. So I have been out placing equipment, maintaining said equipment, and recording frogs for the past two weeks now. The data is rolling in, and while I haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, so far the new field protocol has been successful.

So what does my typical day look like? Well, first let’s talk about how it’s not a “day” anymore, it’s a night. My fieldwork starts at dusk with a 30 minute visual survey, looking for frogs and egg masses. If we find any, we (my field assistants and I) weigh them and measure them. After the visual survey, we wait until 8pm rolls around and then take a directional microphone into the pond to record individual frogs. This goes along until 10pm or three frogs get recorded, whichever comes first. It’s often cold, wet, and a little tedious, but it’s always so exciting to be standing in the middle of a pond full of chorusing frogs.

But let me tell you, I am tired.

Fieldwork is great. I love having the opportunity to do it. But they never tell you how to balance fieldwork with classes and having a life outside of science and presenting at conferences and all the other things being a graduate student entails.

Even so, even with all of this on my plate, it makes me feel alive and full of enthusiasm for the science I do when I have a good day. And the good days are plentiful.

So, you want your fun link of the week? How about lots of pictures of adorable frogs, instead?

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Little Pacific Chorus Frog male

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Gravid Pacific Chorus Frog female

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A long-toed salamander, for good measure

And if you really want to experience what frog fieldwork sounds like, go listen to this video.