Simply put, bioacoustics is the study of sound in biological systems. Research topics include hearing, communication, and animal interactions with their acoustic environment. Hearing works over 360°, 24/7, through darkness and obscured habitats, in deep water, underground, in fact anywhere except empty space. It can't be shut off, so it is the primary warning system for animals even when they are asleep. Although some species are blind, all vertebrates can perceive sound. The dedicated staff and students of the Bioacoustics Laboratory are studying auditory perception and communication of marine and terrestrial animals to understand their dependence on this important modality.
Even in remote places like the open ocean or mountain forests, animals cannot escape contact with our noise, our vehicles, our artifacts, and our invasion of living space. We don't yet know much about the challenges these interactions present to wild animals. But, we do know that we can help prevent population-level impacts if we know how species at risk use sound and what they can tolerate. We are finding ways to use sound as a tool to monitor the environment, warn people in boats and vehicles away from sensitive animals, or help animals avoid dangerous artifacts like nets. We're figuring out what animals can hear and finding ways to strategically minimize noise impact. We're also working to understand sound production and communication, which tells us about animal societies, a key factor when populations are in decline. This knowledge is the legacy of the HSWRI Bioacoustics Laboratory.
36 Years of Sea Sound Solutions
Bioacoustics Laboratory “Firsts”
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute has had its Bioacoustics Laboratory since it was rededicated in 1977, thanks to the leadership of then-director William E. Evans. The work of the laboratory has always been a perfect example of the benefits of having access to SeaWorld’s unequaled collection of marine animals. Since its inception, the lab has conducted a series of studies that were “firsts” on hearing and vocal behavior of killer whales, belugas, false killer whales, Commerson’s dolphins, and short-finned pilot whales. It also conducted the first experiments on a gray whale’s vocal responses to calls under controlled conditions. Bioacoustics Laboratory investigators believe strongly in a synergy between field and laboratory research. For example, HSWRI bioacousticians were the first to study differences in calls and color patterns of free-ranging whales in the Antarctic and Iceland, providing clues for later discoveries about genetic differences among killer whale populations. They are now working under controlled conditions to tease apart genetic and behavioral influences on whale interactions. This information is essential to balancing human needs with conservation of the species.
Unraveling the mysteries of animal communication and the effects of human-made noise on animals