Scientists eavesdrop on whales with deep-sea live streaming audio

Live Streaming


A humpback whale flashes its tail off Monterey Bay.
A humpback whale flashes its tail off Monterey Bay.

Image: Crisostomo/Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty Images

Ever wanted to eavesdrop on a humpback whale? 

Scientists from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have, and are using deep-sea live streaming audio to do just that.

Launched Wednesday, you can listen in on the sounds of the deep through MBARI’s continuous YouTube stream that carries live sound from 3,000 feet beneath the surface, 18 miles west off Monterey Bay, California.

The sounds are being recorded by a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) researchers placed on the seafloor in 2015. The data is carried back to shore through the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS) , which provides oceanographic instruments with round-the-clock power and data connection.

Here’s the live stream, delayed by about 20 minutes to allow for processing.

The audio has been amplified, so will sound like white noise mostly — until those unmistakeable high pitched squeaks come into play. Seriously, it’s a delight when they pop up, and the ultimate office headphones soundtrack.

According to MBARI, the very low pitch of some baleen whale vocalisations can only be heard with high quality speakers or headphones — the hydrophone can pick up sounds from 10 to 128,000 Hertz.

If you tune in at any time, there’s a chance you’ll hear dolphins, whales, and sea lions, and you might hear the odd boat in there. Plus, MBARI says you could potentially hear sounds from earthquakes if they’re occurring. 

Can’t hear anything at all, or don’t really know what you’re listening to? Check the handy “listening room” for pre-recorded clips of identified creatures like the kinda terrifying shriek of the Pacific white-sided dolphin, or the almost mournful-sounding humpback whale. Then you’ll be armed for live stream bingo.

The whole hydrophone project will lead to a sound installation for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center in Santa Cruz, but will also see MBARI researchers working with the center’s scientists, as well as with the University of California, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, toward better understanding whales and other marine mammals along the Central California coast.

The use of recorded whale sounds to better analyse their behaviour is being implemented by researchers around the world — humpbacks were first recorded in the ’60s, a soundtrack that would underpin the “Save the Whales” movement. 

More recently, in April, scientists announced the first long-term recordings of the sperm whale in the East Antarctic, using three specialised acoustic moorings. Research also released in April found that long-lived bowhead whales were found to be singing over 180 different songs.

Go on, check out the live stream above and see who’s online under the sea.

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