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Listening to Fish: Research Programs in Passive Acoustics Applications to Fisheries


By Rodney Rountree1, Cliff Goudey2, and Tony Hawkins3

1School for Marine Science and Technology, UMASS Dartmouth, 706 South Rodney French Blvd, New Bedford, MA 02744

2 Center for Fisheries Engineering Research, MIT Sea Grant College Program, MIT Bldg. NE20-376, 3 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02139

3 Kincraig, Blairs, Aberdeen, Scotland AB12 5YT

On April 8-10, 2002, MIT Sea Grant hosted an international workshop on the application of passive acoustics in fisheries in Dedham, Massachusetts. The 'hands-on' workshop drew over 40 European and North American experts from fisheries, fish biology, acoustics, signal processing, underwater technology and other related fields. One of the important outcomes of the workshop was the exchange of information about ongoing and past research projects that have successfully used passive acoustics. Previously, many of these scientists had been working in isolation with little interaction with their colleagues working across North America and overseas. With this in mind, we asked workshop participants to provide brief summaries of their research programs for distribution to the scientific community and general public. It is our hope that the dissemination of these summaries will increase the awareness of the scientific community, governments, environmental agencies and funding agencies, of the great potential for passive acoustics research in fisheries and related fields. This document provides summaries of the various research programs being conducted in North America and Europe by the workshop participants and their institutions. Additional information on the workshop, and an on-line version of the workshop proceedings can be downloaded from the workshop web page at


Possibly one of the greatest challenges to researchers attempting to study the behavioral ecology of fishes is that of finding the fish in the first place. Often a scientist must go to great lengths conducting expensive and time consuming biological surveys simply to determine the locations or habitats where a fish can be found, before any attempt to study its biotic and abiotic interactions can be made. After all, you can't study something you can't find. Any tool that can help scientists to locate fish is therefore valuable. Fish too face the problem of assessing their environment, navigating through it, and communicating with others of their kind. A surprisingly large number of fishes use sound to overcome the problem of living in a visually opaque medium. We are able to take advantage of this phenomenon, by employing passive acoustic technologies to listen to fish. Although scientists and laymen have been listening to fish for hundreds of years (in fact the names of some fish groups are derived from the sounds they make, such as the "drum" fishes, "croakers" and "grunts"), applications of passive acoustics to fisheries and the exploration of the seas have been limited. Many scientists, although aware that some fishes are vocal, often fail to recognize the usefulness of simply listening to fish in other than laboratory studies of fish behavior. In fact, by passively listening to fish, we can learn a wealth of information about a fish’s behavior and its environmental requirements. The simple act of listening for fish sounds can be a valuable tool for finding fish. If you hear a known sound in a certain location at a certain time, you can document the occurrence of that fish. The use of sounds to locate and study birds and amphibians is second nature to terrestrial biologist, but sadly is rarely employed by fish biologists. Imagine an ornithologist or herpetologist searching through fields and forests for their study species without taking notice of their calls! How much harder would their task be? We believe that marine (and freshwater) ecologists and fisheries biologists can and should make listening to fish a standard part of their investigations. We also believe that passive acoustics technologies promise to become one of the most important "new" tools for fisheries biology and the exploration of the seas in the last several decades. This summary of passive acoustics research programs, together with the companion document "Listening to Fish: Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Applications of Passive Acoustics to Fisheries" is intended as an introduction to this exciting new field of research.


This workshop and the publication of the proceedings benefited by contributions from many individuals. Grace Lee set up the web page and did much of the text and graphics layout for the proceedings. The staff of the Endicott House and Brooks Center provided outstanding conference facilities and support for the workshop. The workshop and publication of the workshop proceedings received major funding from MIT Sea Grant, the Office of Naval Research, and from the Northeast-Great Lakes Center of the National Undersea Research Program. Travel for some workshop participants was funded in-whole, or in-part by: Connecticut Sea Grant, Florida Sea Grant, Hawaii Sea Grant, Louisiana Sea Grant, North Carolina Sea Grant, the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, Texas Sea Grant, and the Woods Hole Sea Grant Programs.