You are here

What is Bioacoustics?


As a science, bioacoustics is a cross-disciplinary field that is broadly concerned with the sounds produced by or affecting living creatures. It includes within its scope: [1] animal communication and associated behavior, [2] sound production anatomy and neurophysiology of animals, [3] auditory capacities and auditory mechanisms of animals, [4] instrumental sonar: use in population assessment, identification, and behavior, and [5] effects of human-made noise on animals. Passive acoustic monitoring is an extension of the field of bioacoustics and includes the use of passively collected sounds (biological eavesdropping, in a sense) to make assessments pertinent to population dynamics, habitat use, and identification.

Soundcapes and Anthropogenic Noise

Similar to visual landscapes, a soundscape describes an environment based on the natural acoustic characteristics – animal vocalizations, wind, waves, weather, and so on – as well as cultivated environmental sounds created by humans, like musical composition or sound design. Noise generated by human activities, otherwise known as anthropogenic noise – especially commercial shipping and seismic oil & gas exploration – is increasingly being recognized as a potential threat to the natural soundscapes; more specifically, marine environments and the organisms that inhabit the ocean. Current scientific data suggest that increased ambient noise levels impact marine organisms by hindering communication, altering communication behavior, altering locomotive behavior, and inducing stress. Additional concerns associated with the degraded acoustic quality of diverse habitats broaden these concerns to include possible repercussions for terrestrial mammals, birds, and amphibians.

Our Role

The research produced by ORCAA seeks to identify and address noise concerns by using acoustics to monitor marine and terrestrial environments, identify species of concern, map acoustic space and space use, and identify how animals use sound. This is accomplished by establishing long-term acoustic monitoring stations, as well as by integrating acoustics into controlled hypothesis testing, and observational studies across a range of spatial and temporal scales. Learn more about how ORCAA answers questions about marine and terrestrial soundscapes, or see what technology we’re developing and deploying throughout the world, by visiting our project pages.