Soniferous fish: counting Murray-Darling fishes using sound

Soniferous fish: counting Murray-Darling fishes using sound
Matt Smith listening to fish

Matt Smith listening to fish

Underwater microphones can identify the unique sounds made by fish species. These sounds can be useful in locating fish, making abundance estimates, and directing habitat management. To date, however, this technology is uncommonly used in Australian rivers. The specific objectives of this project were to:

  • trial bioacoustic (fish noises) technology to determine whether captive large-bodied native fish – Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii), Golden perch (Macquaria ambigua ambigua), and Silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) – produce sounds associated with artificial or pond spawning, and whether spawning population counts can be obtained.
  • isolate individual spawning sounds produced by each fish species and its associated behaviours, for example, do individual species produce unique, distinguishable sounds for male dominance, courtship, spawning or distress?
  • test for soniferous sounds in wild collected adult Carp (Cyprinus carpio) spawned in captive conditions.
  • scope passive bioacoustics as a tool for measuring the relative abundance of fish in key habitats and potentially in fishways.


A sonogram of acoustic signals recorded in a tank with spawning golden perch. The noise could not be specifically isolated to the fish. Photo credit: Ivor Stuart

A sonogram of acoustic signals recorded in a tank with spawning golden perch. The noise could not be specifically isolated to the fish. Photo credit: Ivor Stuart

Several acoustic noises were isolated during the project, and although these were absent from the controls, they could not specifically be attributed to the fish.

These results demonstrate that some Murray-Darling Basin native fish potentially produce noises. Further research and replication is needed to clarify the mechanism of fish sound production, individual variation in vocalisation, and the utility for research and management. The sonogram data did appear to include biological noise, but the DIDSON camera proved unsuitable in hatchery tanks and further work with fixed video cameras is needed to link sound production with fish behaviour.

Murray cod appear to provide a model species for further acoustic trials as these fish have complex social behaviour that can be observed in the semi-natural conditions of a hatchery pond. The suggested protocol is to set up a DIDSON camera or video recorder and hydrophones within the spawning drum (used by fish as a laying site). This method would allow visual confirmation of fish making noises, and the hydrophone would be placed in an optimal position to capture any vocalisations.

Implications for native fish

The preliminary results of this project suggest that using a hydrophone to detect native fish is plausible, but requires further work. If further trials are successful this technology may be useful for detecting native fish spawning which would assist in determining fish habitat preferences for both conservation and rehabilitation.


Project MD1022: Soniferous fish

Stuart, I., Smith, M. & Baumgartner, L. 2008. Counting Murray-Darling fishes by validating sounds associated with spawning. Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

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Luczkovich, J.J., Mann, D.A., and Rountree, R.A. (2008).  Passive acoustics as a tool in fisheries science.  Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 137: 533-541.

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Rountree, R.A., Gilmore, R.G., Goudey, C.A., Hawkins, A.D., Luczkovich, J.J. and Mann, D.A. (2006).  Listening to fish: applications of passive acoustics to fisheries science.  Fisheries 31: 433-446.

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