Whale sounds in real time-check it out at the Haida Gwaii Museum, Skidegate

  • Dec. 3, 2008 10:00 a.m.

Anything from gurgles, swooshing sounds, bubbles popping, ticking noises and whale whistles can be heard on the new hydrophone at the Haida Gwaii Museum. The underwater microphone and sound system are submerged 60 feet under the ocean about half way between the museum and Jewell Island (visible from the museum’s outdoor decks. Museum-goers can listen to the sounds via headphones or a speaker, says Christine Pansino, who recently took over as executive director of Laskeek Bay Conservation Society. Laskeek Bay recently got the hydrophone up and running so people can start listening in, but they won’t have interpretive sign boards up until mid-January. According to the society’s information, marine mammals use sounds in the same way other animals use vision. Toothed whales and dolphins produce calls and whistles to communicate between group members and they use echo-location to detect prey. Others, like Baleen whales, communicate with one another using low frequency sounds. Some of the popping sounds are made by shrimp and a low hum is made by fish in their breeding season. Ms Pansino says herring produce a burst of pulses called Fast Repetitive Ticks (or FRTs), which makes for a lot of fish flatulent jokes. When the Kwuna passes, people can also hear the loud noise of its engine droning past. Ms Pansino says the display will discuss underwater noise pollution and how loud noises can disrupt the behavior of marine animals. “You really get a sense of how loud that would sound to different marine animals,” she says. Laskeek Bay has also installed nest boxes for pigeon guillemonts on the rocks below the museum’s viewing deck. These diving birds feed around rocky shores and eat sculpins, blennies and other small bottom-diving fish. Pigeon Guillemonts easily adopt man-made structures for nesting and these ones are intended to provide supplementary sites for breeding. Once birds have established nests in the boxes, video monitoring devices will be attached so visitors can watch the birds feeding their young.