How the “Sizzling Bacon” Sound of Shrimp Can Reduce Whale Beachings

Researchers are exploring ways to monitor underwater human activity by listening to the natural sounds of sea creatures instead of using whale-harming methods like sonar.

Author Christian Nathler, 07.25.22

Translation Sarah-Indra Jungblut:

Every year, countless marine mammals are permanently harmed and beached by the disorienting effects of military sonar. Two projects seek an ecological alternative by eavesdropping on ocean organisms to gain intel on underwater threats.  

One project, Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS), sees potential in listening to the snapping sound of shrimp (described as similar to that of frying bacon). Another project, the wonderfully named Grouper Guard, hopes to rely on the loud, low-frequency booms goliath groupers make when they perceive a threat.

Much like with sonar, military personnel would be alerted to the presence of a vehicle when it echoes back the sizzle of a shrimp colony. Or they could be tipped off by the groupers fussing over an intrusion of their territory.

Natural sonar and alert methods can also be harnessed for more than just military intelligence. As the BBC notes, “Tuning in to the sounds made by normal marine life, and learning how they change, would give researchers a low-cost, environmentally friendly way of tracking the impact of human activities underwater. This would be useful for projects like off-shore windfarms, oil drilling, and seabed mining.” Of course, a much greener solution would be to ditch ocean and fossil fuel mining altogether, but that’s another story. 

Still, there is doubt whether an ecosystem of living sensors can perform reliably. Sidharth Kaushal, a naval warfare specialist, points at past attempts to detect submarines using the glow of bioluminescent plankton. A sub was sunk once, allegedly, but other successes have been few and far between. “Cold War efforts by both the Soviets and the Americans to utilise [the plankton] in a systematic way came to nothing,” says Kaushal. “Partially as they had no way of differentiating false positives, such as the reaction from a passing whale, from the real thing.”

Be that as it may, we’ve made astronomical technological strides since the Cold War. The shrimp and grouper methods would be enhanced by algorithms, artificial intelligence and special software in order to reduce the noise, so to speak, and get more precise readings about the source and location of an object of interest. 

In any case, progress in the field is a win for whales, who are disproportionately victimised by sonar. As whales have their own sonar, any interfering sound waves from ships or submarines can distress them to the point of self-beaching. Together with satellite technology, marine life sonar could one day prevent such fates.

Building, but Sustainably: Can a Digitally-Enabled Reforestation Project Restructure the Construction Sector?

Concrete, aluminium and steel are not the most sustainable building materials - especially in warm, humid climates. A reforestation project now aims to combine the ecological, economic and social components of sustainability in the construction sector.

UrbanSky: Can Cheap Balloon-Based Images Help Disaster Relief and Civil Society?

A US startup hopes its 'mircoballoon' platform can provide aerial photography to a new host of users, including charities, farmers and rescuers.

Rainforest Alert: Combining Technology With Indigenous Rights to Help Protect the Amazon

Satellites have long been used to monitor deforestation, but how can that data be used to actively create results on the ground?

Cloud Seeding: The UAE Experiments with Laser-Equipped Drones to Create Artificial Rain

Water security is increasingly becoming one of the fundamental issues of the 21st century, especially for states in the dryer and more arid regions of the world. With water forming the basis of all life, some nations are adopting increasingly radical solutions to ensure a fresh supply of water. For example, states such as the

Satellite Photography May Hold the Key to Learning How Scotland’s Precious Peatland ‘Breathes’

Poorly understood peatlands have long been carelessly exploited, releasing their stored up carbon. With the help of satellites and advanced software, researchers now hope to accurately measure their vital signs.

Interview: OpenSpaceData Wants to Democratise Access to Satellite Data

The satellite images made during large ESA and NASA space missions are freely accessible to the general public - in theory at least. But in reality, not everyone can use them. Niklas Jordan wants to change that, with his project OpenSpaceData.

51002548221_f43cd8a612_h
© re:publica Berlin
RESET Live Talk @re:publica 2021: “Satellites for Sustainability”

Satellites are powerful weapons in the fight against deforestation, overfishing and plastic waste. But there are downsides too, to the recent huge increase in the number of satellites orbiting the Earth. In RESET's upcoming event at the re:publica conference 2021, we'll be taking a closer look at projects using satellites for the good of the planet, and discussing a whole range of different solutions for sustainable space travel.

Using Satellite Data to Map Air Pollution and Improve Health

NASA scientists will be teaming up with epidemiologists in the agency’s first health-focused mission. With satellite data, they’ll find out how air pollution affects health in cities around the world.