Fish Sing at Dawn, Just Like Birds Do

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-12 19:30

What do fish sing of? [Photo by Jeremy Bishop]

If birds can greet the dawn with song, why can't fish sing their good mornings too?

It turns out that fish do make their dawn salutations as well. It sounds strange, because we don't really think of fish as particularly vocal. We think of them as musical even less. However, scientists have discovered that fish sing in choruses at dawn and dusk.

Researcher Robert McCauley and his team managed to record choruses of fish singing—though it's not the kind of singing that we may be used to hearing. It's certainly far from the sweet-sounding chirping of birds or the strange buzzing of cicadas. Even so, it's singing nonetheless.

What Fish Choruses Sound Like

A swarm of batfish, one of the fish species that sing at dawn and dusk.

The team managed to record seven different fish choruses that come together off the coast of Port Hedland, Western Australia. They used two sea-noise loggers at separate points in the coastal waters. After 18 months of observation and monitoring, the researchers were able to conclude that fish choruses sing at dawn and dusk, mostly in the spring and late summer.

So what exactly do fish sound like? It may seem strange, but they sound like a large number of people playing brass instruments for the first time, at the same time. A species of fish makes sounds like those of a foghorn, while others sound like they're grunting. Each fish starts out with a solo part, and once all the fish sing at the same time, they form a chorus.

You can listen to a recording of a fish chorus here.

The researchers were able to identify three fish species and the sounds they made in the chorus. One species, the black jewfish, is the one that made the foghorn-like sound. Tentrapontids emitted the buzzing, grunting calls, while batfish made the more demure “ba-ba-ba” sounds.

Why Do Fish Sing?

While it may be surprising that fish sing in choruses, it really shouldn't be. A lot of living things in the world rely on sound to communicate different things. Bird hatchlings call for their mothers for feeding, and frogs croak when searching for potential mates. Other species of fish use sound so they can stay together as they hunt. Fish also use sound for matters like reproduction and territorial disputes.

Monitoring fish choruses can give researchers the ability to monitor the ecosystems these fish live in. McCauley says that he and his team are just beginning to understand what's going on with the fish choruses. There's a lot of reasons why fish make sounds, but we have yet to find out why fish sing.

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