Live Sounds From Deep Sea Now Just A Click Away

Apr 30, 2018

You can now listen to the sounds of the deep sea whenever you want. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has released a live stream of the audio from a hydrophone.

It sits 3,000 feet below the water’s surface, and about 18 miles offshore -- just outside the Monterey Bay.   The hydrophone captures sounds that are both close in proximity and as far away as the ocean's surface.

If you tune in, you’ll find the ocean can be very quiet, but sometimes, teeming with life.

John Ryan is the lead scientist on this project and a Biological Oceanographer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.   

In one of his favorite sounds captured by the hydrophone, you can hear four different marine mammals: Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea lions, a humpback whale and one other unidentified pinniped.  That's where our conversation picks up.

Krista Almanzan (KA): So to have those four different (types of) marine life in that one sound clip, is that rare? Or does that more reflect there's just a lot out there in the ocean?

John Ryan (JR):  I can't answer that without an analysis, which is what I usually would do. But my hunch is that it's common because when all of these marine mammals are foraging in places where the concentration of food is high, that's the most efficient way for them to get what they need. So if there is a place where krill have swarmed together, or anchovy have formed dense schools, all the marine mammals will know about it and they'll come for dinner.

KA: So the hydrophone was put out there in 2015. Why?

JR: Sound is a great carrier of information in the ocean. It can travel so much farther than light and it travels much faster in water than in air. So, you know, marine mammals use sound for all their essential life activities: communication, navigation, foraging. And so if we just listen, we'll learn a lot about their lives.

So here's another one (sound clip). We can hear it's a sperm whale click, sperm whale or cachalot. One of our collaborators, Brandon Southall, describes this in a very interesting way. Those clicks are like, imagine turning on a flashlight for a moment. Because what they're doing is focusing sound within their own heads, using their skull as a reflector and sending out a sound, a pulse, to briefly illuminate with sound the dark ocean that they're in and searching for squid in.

KA: You have two years of information. What do you want to do with this?

JR:  We want to do a number of things. The first thing is, it started from the beginning, is to share it. We've given data to academic institutions up and down the coast for different research purposes. We also want to share the experience of it, and that's what this is about. Our intention is that in sharing these recordings, we can open up a window of experience for people to know what the ocean sounds like. Know what these beautiful marine mammals, these incredible lifeforms of the ocean, sound like. How are they using sound and to get a sense of a new opportunity for us, collectively, to be better stewards of the marine environment and we can only do that through understanding it.

Click here to listen to the live audio stream from the deep-sea hydrophone.

And click here for pre-recorded sounds from the hydrophone.