Could the Biggest Ocean Recording Ever Made Redefine Marine Science? | The Swim

Could the Biggest Ocean Recording Ever Made Redefine Marine Science? | The Swim

February 3, 2020 73 By Kailee Schamberger


You’re hearing these dolphins use high-pitched clicks and whistles to navigate a world of obstacles, danger, and prey with their pods. But these spirited signals are in
jeopardy of being drowned out as the ocean gets noisier every year. PAUL: When we saw those dolphins, and put the hydrophone in the water, I almost cried. It was the first time in my life I could hear their voices. With more than 500 miles under his belt, Ben Lecomte and the crew are more eager than ever to get his trans-Pacific Swim back on track and continue raising awareness for ocean health. They will then resume the protocol of collecting 8-12 hours of underwater audio each night, in an effort to build the most comprehensive soundscape of the Pacific Ocean in history. PAUL: The first goal for us is to have this photography, this sound postcard of the ocean. This data could help scientists determine how crowded the ocean is with marine mammals, and how they’re affected by man-made sounds, like shipping traffic. HERVE: The more you have sounds
in the sea, in the oceans, the less the animals can communicate between each other, so the less they meet. The less they meet, the less they reproduce. The team is using a calibrated hydrophone, a microphone that picks up specific frequencies within a 20-km radius underwater. It can detect everything from the
playful clicking of dolphins to the sound of sperm whales hunting. HERVE: A “soundscape” is a recording
of a multiplicity of sounds. Recording these sounds will create which scientists call an “acoustic transect.” HERVE: Each night, we’re recording
from sunset to the morning with the same hydrophone, at the same position,
from the same boat so it makes something like 3,000 hours of recordings. When the team receives the data, they feed it through artificial intelligence models they’ve developed that can recognize the
calls, clicks, and whistles of a number of different cetacean species. Anthropophony are the sounds from human activities; biophony are the sounds from biological activities; and geophony is the sounds
from the wind, and the rain, and the tectonic. So our work is to use what we call the
machine listening system. We train this machine on the soundscape
of cetacean sounds, and then they are able to index, or categorize, classify sounds from many different species. This catalogue could map population
densities of whales and dolphins as the crew travels east, and may even pick up some surprising signals along the way. HERVE: During the Cold War, some did record
what they called a “Big Duck.” They didn’t know at all what it was, and they thought it was a special submarine from the East Bloc. But it was a minke whale. And this minke whale has been completely described only 10 years ago. If audio evidence can reveal where cetacean superhighways cross the Pacific, then policymakers can develop “quiet zones” to help alleviate the stress of human noise
on wildlife communication. This is why continuing Ben’s mission
to highlight ocean health is so important. HERVE: The best outcome of The Swim
is to demonstrate that there is a continuity alive in the ocean. It’s a complex habitat. It’s full of life. And the density of this life will be depicted
by these recordings. PAUL: The water is not empty. It has been very surprising to see how much life there is. We have our everyday whale…
like at the point where we drop Ben, we always have a whale waiting for us. So to enter in some kind of relationship with this world and with all these mammals
and all these creatures in the water…. Learning from them by listening is very, very touching. Be sure to visit Seeker.com/theswim to read daily updates from Ben Lecomte, track his progress in real time, and watch more videos about the science happening onboard Seeker. Click here for this next episode, and
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