LISTEN: Scientists Record What Fish Sound Like Communicating in the Water

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Animal habits have intrigued us for generations, with creatures across the animal kingdom using a variety of sounds to communicate. Some of the most beautiful sounds take place beneath the ocean’s surface. For years, scientists have recorded the mesmerizing chatter of whale and dolphin groups. Other intriguing conversations happen between our planet’s treetops as birds voice their songs day in and day out. Now, scientists have recorded the fascinating sound of fish communication underwater, and it’s unlike any animal sound we’ve heard before.

According to Science Alert, scientists previously believed fish relied heavily on unique forms of communication outside of acoustics. These include methods such as color signals, body language, and even electricity.

However, the above clip reveals that fish use a range of tones that mimick a foghorn in order to communicate.

Cornell University ecologist, Aaron Rice, stated, “We’ve known for a long time that some fish make sounds, but fish sounds were always perceived as rare oddities.”

Instead, recent discoveries determine that fish, much like birds, crickets, and frogs, share dawn and dusk choruses. As per the outlet, records of anatomical descriptions, sound recordings, and vocal accounts reveal the ray-finned group of fish, with more than 34,000 live species, may create these foghorn-like sounds without actual vocal cords. And the most talkative of those, at least so far, is the catfish and the toadfish.

One Cornell evolutionary scientist, Andrew Bass, believes, “They’ve probably been overlooked because fishes are not easily heard or seen, and the science of underwater acoustic communication has primarily focused on whales and dolphins.”

As to how these vocal cord-less creatures physically communicate, Rice stated, “They can grind their teeth or make movement noise in the water.”

Fish Communication Predates the Evolved Human Species

We might like to think of fish as primitive creatures, with simple concerns including food, mates, territory, and danger. However, when we get right down to it, most of us Outsiders share similarly simple needs. That said, Science Alert estimates fish-speak appeared about 155 million years ago. The determined timeline puts fish communication emerging at the same time vertebrate land animals began vocalizing.

With that said, those talkative vertebrates served as the foundation for the modern human species. So, while language is complex, humans are not nearly as sophisticated as we might like to believe. After all, we have vocal cords.

During the study, the research team found that of 175 examined families of fish, two-thirds likely communicate acoustically. As the outlet highlights, that far surpasses the previously determined one-fifth of chatty fish.

However, even more impressive, further analysis of fish language suggests vocal communication within these species has evolved at least 33 times.

Overall, the research team wrote, “Our results strongly support the hypothesis that soniferous behavior is ancient.”