How are Scientists and Artists Helping to Save the Sounds of Planet Earth?


Almost unbelievably, scientists and artists are working overtime to amplify or bring back the sounds of nature. Generally, when animal species tend to thin out or disappear, so too does their acoustic footprint on the planet. Now, however, with amazing scientific innovations and technological prowess, scientists and artists are using sounds of animal recordings to coax animals and wildlife back into their habitats. While many of these sounds tend to go unnoticed by us, they are essential to the animals.

If we take the time to notice the ambient sounds of nature, walking through a forest, along the nature trail, or in the woods, a cacophony of sounds abounds. These include all sorts of audio elements, including tweets, clicks, buzzes, whistles, groans, flapping, fluffing, or shaking sounds made by mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and the like. It’s a veritable circus of sounds, audible to the animals relying on them for survival, communication, and procreation. This orchestral entourage of sounds comprises a massive network of soundwaves, audible and inaudible to the human ear. 

We see this evidence in the oceans, lakes, ponds, dams, rivers, savannahs, deserts, forests, jungles, urban and rural enclaves, and beyond. In the oceans, we have dolphins, whales, porpoises, turtles, sea snakes, sharks, and a seemingly endless supply of schools of fish communicating with one another through all sorts of audible elements. Indeed, the sound of water communicates on multiple sensory levels. It’s exhilarating and refreshing, and no visuals are needed to create the picture in our mind’s eye – consider listening to this sea waves sound effect free download for a crystal clear representation of this phenomenon.

Even turtle embryos collectively make sounds at birth, emanating from the shells as a clarion call for the hatchlings. And beyond that, we have the buzzing of fish from the unfathomable, murky depths of the ocean. It’s a paradise of audio resonating far and wide in the deep blue. The persistent noise – a symphony of sounds – defines natural ecosystems where the world’s wonders are fully displayed. 

Biodiversity in Surround Sound

The bio significance of sound is rapidly becoming recognized among the scientific community and greater society. As we all learn to appreciate the audio elements, we can begin formulating technologically-derived solutions to bolstering, re-energizing, and reaffirming the importance of these sounds. It’s all too clear – birds rely on sound to protect their nests and hatchlings against predators, communicate with one another, and express themselves. And it’s not just the seemingly sentient beings, mammals, and higher-functioning creatures that rely on sounds – it’s most of them in some way, shape, or form.

And there are many other familiar sounds to the wildlife in the frozen oceans, frozen lakes, frozen dams, and frozen rivers. The wintry embrace brings a deep chill, followed by whining, cracking, jarring, and grating sounds of ice. When ice heaves, expands, cracks, and falls, it generates terrifying sounds. Like a giant audio speaker, ice in rivers, lakes, dams, and oceans can drown out the sounds of everything else, with agonizing cracks, vibrations, and distortions in the environment. In lakes and dams, ice contracts and expands depending on the ambient temperature. 

As it moves away from the shore in warmer temperatures, it destabilizes. It covers the banks as it moves towards the shore in colder temperatures. These movements bring with them all sorts of ambient sounds. The acoustics of the ice are less noticeable in the dead of winter; that’s when ambient temperatures are so cold that there is less heaving, cracking, or expansion of the ice. Also, snowfall is a blanket to muffle the sounds of the ice movements, so it’s less perceptible during intensely cold weather cycles.

Sonic Conservation is Environmental Conservation

Environmental conservation now encompasses sonic conservation. Wildlife and environmental experts roundly recognize the importance of sound. Sound is sacrosanct whether it’s alarm signals, territorial integrity, or mating calls. By carefully listening to the sounds of nature and understanding the inflections, intonations, and intricacies, we can better identify the lifestyles, habits, and preferences of creatures, big and small. Passive acoustic monitoring systems are now readily available, courtesy of affordable, non-invasive, and environmentally friendly acoustic sensors. 

These devices are supremely attuned to providing researchers with invaluable scientific data regarding nature and its creatures. The technology is capable of performing where human ears cannot. Such is the fantastic data collected from sound mapping, sound understanding, and pattern recognition that researchers discovered in 2020, which shows that the sounds made by recorded rainfall were able to elicit a reproductive response among frogs.

Marine ecologists concur with the importance of acoustic devices for assessing and interpreting the interplay between sounds, phenomena, and nature’s way. For example, a decade ago, Dominic McAfee—a marine ecologist—used underwater audio systems to entice wild oyster larvae to a specific enclave in the hopes of restoring a natural habitat. It worked. This is important insofar as wildlife conservation depends on it. For example, over 85% of oyster reefs no longer exist, with oysters on the brink of extinction. 

These underwater sound experiments have an outsized role in restoring these wild oyster habitats, allowing for wildlife preservation, and repopulating once-decimated reefs. Such is the significance of rehabilitative efforts using sound analysis, generation, and reproduction. McAfee’s team also created a veritable oyster raceway, validating the notion that these microscopic animals traversed several meters to reach the source of the sound. The knowledge from sound analysis and reproduction verifies that the microscopic larvae swim in clumps, numbering in the millions.

Acoustic luring of microscopic larvae presents a cost-effective, highly productive method for restoring lost fauna in the ocean. Of course, significant study is warranted to validate the effectiveness of acoustic techniques, but early indications are certainly promising. The focus on oysters is exceptionally important, given that they are capable of filtering huge tracts of ocean in mere days. 

Now that oyster populations have largely been depleted, it takes significantly longer for areas like the Chesapeake Bay basin to be filtered—upwards of a year. Given their impact on water purification and clarity, oyster populations must be rehabilitated, repopulated, and resettled in their natural habitats. Thanks to audio technology, lab-grown larvae can be introduced into restored habitats where insufficient existing larvae exist. Overall noise levels must be monitored to prevent a cacophony that could upset the eco-balance.

Bringing Sounds Back to Depleted Habitats

Far away—thousands of miles to be precise—in the Palmyra Atoll, another ecological disaster lies in wait. This Pacific Ocean and jungle paradise was infested with rats during WW2. These rodents soon multiplied and destroyed the existing seabirds, flora, and shellfish populations. Without the seabirds, the ecological imbalance created havoc on the environment. Their significance vis-a-vis serving as a nutrient delivery service for these out-of-the-way places is sacrosanct. 

Anyone who understands the nature of an unspoiled natural habitat is all too aware of the deafening sounds emanating from these locales. Unfortunately, many areas with an imbalance suffer in silence. Fortunately, researchers, scientists, biologists, and animal experts bring the sounds back to these habitats to rapturous applause from the existing fauna and flora. The global scientific community is well aware of sound as a critical component of wildlife conservation. Work continues in earnest in this regard, and artists along with scientists are bringing the cacophonous and melodious sounds back to nature! 

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