Searching for Scouse cod and Geordie haddock

5 October 2016

A cod
  • Scientists investigate whether fish species have regional dialects.
  • Marine sound pollution may interfere with fish communication and breeding.
  • Research presented at Into the blue science showcase.

Scientists this week launched a new study into the 'soundscape' of Britain's seas, aiming to better understand the impact of maritime noise pollution on fish including their ability to communicate.

Species such as cod and haddock are known to use vocalisations to attract mates so researchers will be looking at the possible impacts of noise on their behaviour.

Professor Steve Simpson, associate professor in marine biology & global change at the University of Exeter, who is leading the research, said, "Seawater is hundreds of times denser than air, so sounds travel much faster and further. We have found that fish on coral reefs are susceptible to noise pollution but we are yet to study the effects in our own waters, which are some of the busiest in the world.

"Cod produce a variety of sounds using their swim bladders, to establish territories, raise the alarm and attract mates. We may find that the 'gossip' essential to their society is being drowned out. If we value our fish stocks - or our Friday night fish supper - we need to understand this."

As part of the study, scientists are also investigating whether fish have regional accents. It is known that many animals, from songbirds to killer whales, have localised dialects, and this has also been documented in clownfish. Professor Simpson believes it may be true for species such as cod and haddock as well.

"Recordings of American cod are very different to those from their European cousins, so there is a precedent. This species is highly vocal with traditional breeding grounds established over hundreds or even thousands of years, so the potential for regionalism is there."

Climate change may also be a factor. As sea temperatures rise, cold-loving fish species such as cod are migrating north. Different regional populations coming into contact for the first time may not share the same vocal repertoire and could struggle to integrate, share territory and breed.

"There is a vast ecosystem on our doorstep which we barely understand - but all rely on. It's time to get out there and listen, which is why we are so excited to be researching this area and the UK continuing to be a world leader in maritime science."

Professor Simpson will be discussing soundscapes, fish dialects and his team's research, at Into the blue, the science showcase run by NERC. Visitors can meet Professor Simpson on 5 October at the Into the blue event in Liverpool.

Environmental science touches us all: we depend on it for clean water, food on our plates and fresh air - it's the science we live and breathe. Into the blue is a celebration of this science and a unique opportunity for the public to see, first hand, the work of UK environmental scientists in our skies and seas.

Nine days of events will feature exhibitions, presentations, debates and hands-on science demos by real scientists. The centre-piece of Into the blue will be the chance to explore RRS Discovery, docked in Liverpool from 4-7 October, and the FAAM aircraft at Manchester Airport from 25-29 October.


Further information

Tamera Jones
NERC media office
01793 411561
07917 557215


Notes

1. NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We co-ordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

2. Into the Blue is a series of free showcase events in the North West taking place throughout October which aims to engage the public with environmental science that affects their lives, within four themes: Air, Water, Energy and Health, through displaying two of NERC's largest scientific assets, our ships (Discovery and Sir David Attenborough) and the FAAM research aircraft alongside exhibits from NERC-funded researchers presenting environmental science in a way that focuses on its relevance and everyday use.

3. Professor Simpson's research on clownfish populations and on impacts of noise on coral reef fish can be found in two University of Exeter press releases: Expedition finds Nemo can travel great distances to connect populations - external link - and Motorboat noise gives predators a deadly advantage - external link.