Photo Credit: Scientist Xavier Mouy | Times Colonist Submitted Photo

Meet the Scientists Translating The Language of the Sea

It's not just whales making noise down there

Who knew fish talk? We’re just learning how to listen

The haunting sound of a whale song or the joyful shrieks of a dolphin is what most people would think of when it comes to ocean animal languages.

But there’s a lot more going on than we’ve realized.

According to UVIC researchers, fish are actually just as chatty as their larger mammalian counterparts.

“When I was working in coastal British Columbia, I could hear so many fish all over and all year round, but nobody could tell me what species they were,” Researcher Xavier Mouy told Times Colonist. “So, I decided to develop instrumentation to figure it out.”

Mouy has created three different mobile acoustic recording systems to be used in various marine habitats, all equipped with multiple cameras and hydrophones.

They pinpoint a specific sound’s location and then match this with video data to verify which fish is making it.

These tools are the first being used to categorize fish by the sounds they make and the beginning of a system that could decode what different noises mean.

The team has tested the technology at four locations around Vancouver Island. So far, they’ve successfully identified sounds made by three fish species — the quillback rockfish, the copper rockfish and lingcod.

Before this, none of these fish species were even thought to make sounds at all.

It’s a crazy find that could seriously help out researchers and conservationists, Mouy said. 

The quillback is a threatened species. Knowing the noises, it makes will help determine the areas where the fish is most comfortable and likely to thrive.

He added that catching the lingcod’s noises on tape will be just as impactful. 

“It’s a species important for fisheries, so it will likely be useful for management or conservation.” 

If you’re interested in hearing the different sounds, you’re in luck.

They’ll all be added to a public “acoustic library” they’re creating called

“If we want fish acoustics to be really useful, we all really need to share and work as a team and identify these sounds worldwide.” 

He’s encouraging others to add to it as well and has made all the building instructions for the systems and related materials and processing software open-source for anyone to utilize

He hopes other scientists can add to and improve his work through this.

Who knows, if enough research is gathered, maybe “Coho Salmon” will be the next language on Duolingo.