NUWC Division Newport, NAVSEA, Newport, RI, 02841, United States
Dr. Lauren A. Freeman, Dr. Daniel Duane, Dr. Ian Rooney from NUWC Division Newport and
Dr. Simon E. Freeman from ARPA-E
Popular version of 1aAB1 – Passive Acoustic Monitoring of Biological Soundscapes in a Changing Climate
Presented at the 184 ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at https://doi.org/10.1121/10.0018023
Climate change is impacting our oceans and marine ecosystems across the globe. Passive acoustic monitoring of marine ecosystems has been shown to provide a window into the heartbeat of an ecosystem, its relative health, and even information such as how many whales or fish are present in a given day or month. By studying marine soundscapes, we collate all of the ambient noise at an underwater location and attribute parts of the soundscape to wind and waves, to boats, and to different types of biology. Long term biological soundscape studies allow us to track changes in ecosystems with a single, small, instrument called a hydrophone. I’ve been studying coral reef soundscapes for nearly a decade now, and am starting to have time series long enough to begin to see how climate change affects soundscapes. Some of the most immediate and pronounced impacts of climate change on shallow ocean soundscapes are evident in varying levels of ambient biological sound. We found a ubiquitous trend at research sites in both the tropical Pacific (Hawaii) and sub-tropical Atlantic (Bermuda) that warmer water tends to be associated with higher ambient noise levels. Different frequency bands provide information about different ecological processes (such as fish calls, invertebrate activity, and algal photosynthesis). The response of each of these processes to temperature changes is not uniform, however each type of ambient noise increases in warmer water. At some point, ocean warming and acidification will fundamentally change the ecological structure of a shallow water environment. This would also be reflected in a fundamentally different soundscape, as described by peak frequencies and sound intensity. While I have not monitored the phase shift of an ecosystem at a single site, I have documented and shown that healthy coral reefs with high levels of parrotfish and reef fish have fundamentally different soundscapes, as reflected in their acoustic signature at different frequency bands, than coral reefs that are degraded and overgrown with fleshy macroalgae. This suggests that long term soundscape monitoring could also track these ecological phase shifts under climate stress and other impacts to marine ecosystems such as overfishing.
A healthy coral reef research site in Hawaii with vibrant corals, many reef fish, and copious nooks and crannies for marine invertebrates to make their homes.
Soundscape segmented into three frequency bands capturing fish vocalizations (blue), parrotfish scrapes (red), and invertebrate clicks along with algal photosynthesis bubbles (yellow). All features show an increase in ambient noise level (PSD, y-axis) with increasing ocean temperature at each site studied in Hawaii.
Popular version of 5aUW-Underwater soundscapes at critical habitats of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, presented at the 183rd ASA Meeting.
The ocean is a noisy place. From chatty marine mammals to territorial fish and hungry shrimp, marine animals use sound to communicate, navigate, defend territories, and find food, mates, and safe spaces to settle down. However, human activities are negatively impacting the abilities of marine animals to effectively use sound for critical life functions. For the endangered Hawaiian monk seal with a population size of approximately 1,570 seals, we’re finding that vocal communication (Audio File 1) may play an important role for reproduction, yet we lack a foundational knowledge of the seals’ acoustic environment, better known as a soundscape. In this study, we found that biological sounds produced by snapping shrimp, fish, and seals dominate and shape the underwater soundscapes at critical habitats of the Hawaiian monk seal, with little input from man-made sources (Figure 1).
Figure 1 | A) Spectrogram of a 24-hour period on 11 May 2021 at Lehua Rock. A spectrogram is a visual representation of a sound where the x-axis is time, the y-axis is frequency (or pitch), and the color represents the amplitude of the sound (how loud or soft the sound is). The black icons indicate the source of the sound: snapping shrimp, boat, scuba divers, humpback whale song, Hawaiian monk seal vocalizations, and the vertical migration of the deep scattering layer. B) Spectrogram showing overlapping Hawaiian monk seal vocalizations from 0-1 kHz and humpback whale song from 0.5-5 kHz (listen to this in Audio File 1).
We sought to describe the underwater soundscape, or the acoustic environment, at locations that Hawaiian monk seals utilize for foraging, breeding, communication, and other critical life functions. We wanted to know 1) how loud are ambient (background) sound levels, 2) are sound sources biological, geophysical, or manmade, 3) how do sound sources and levels change throughout the day, and 4) how does the soundscape compare between the more-densely human-populated main Hawaiian Islands and the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To do this, we deployed passive acoustic recorders, known as SoundTraps, at four critical habitats of the Hawaiian monk seal: Rabbit Island, Oahu; Lehua Rock, Niʻihau; French Frigate Shoals; and Pearl and Hermes Reef. The SoundTraps recorded sounds from 20 Hz up to 24 kHz – this includes low-frequency sounds like earthquakes to high-frequency sounds like dolphin echolocation.
Our results indicate that sound levels are generally loud at these nearshore reef environments thanks to the persistent crackling sounds of snapping shrimp, low-frequency vocalizations of monk seals, and a variety of fish sounds. With little input from manmade sound sources, except at the popular scuba diving site Lehua Rock, we suspect that the elevated sound levels are indicative of healthy reef environments. This is good news for Hawaiian monk seals – less manmade noise means less acoustic masking making it easier to hear and “speak” to each other under water. We also opportunistically recorded sounds from Hurricane Douglas (Category 4) and a 6.2 magnitude earthquake around the time Kilauea began erupting. Overall, this study provides the first description of underwater soundscapes at Hawaiian monk seal critical habitats. These measurements can serve as a baseline for future studies to understand the impact of human activity on underwater soundscapes.