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Marine Science in the News: Some vocal fish have accents

Dolphins have accents? Sperm whales have varied dialects? Cod have different “voices”? Just like humans, some animal populations have unique ways of communicating and their accents vary throughout the ocean.

We are familiar with whale vocalizations that vary by activity, and there is even variation between same species depending on where they live. We are also aware that dolphin call each other by name and they can remember those names, even if they haven’t seen each other for 20 years. While marine mammals show incredible intricate language and communication behaviors, the language of vocal fish had never been studied in depth until recently.

A 2016 study from the University of Exeter examined variations in vocal cod depending on where they live. American cod make “a staccato, banging, bop bop bop sound”, while European cod make more of a “deep rumbling growling”. Play the video below and see if you can tell the difference!

Video courtesy of USA Today. Article: Can fish have regional accents? These cod do, scientists say. Oct. 6, 2016.

Fish produce a variety of sounds, often using their swim bladders. They produce sound to establish territories, raise the alarm to ward off predators and to attract mates. By studying cod around Britain, the team expect that the cod could even have localized accents because they gather in the same spawning grounds generation after generation.

These communication studies are important in order for us to better understand these animals, but also to assist with conservation efforts. The research team at Exeter found that noise pollution in the oceans caused by maritime construction, speed boats and ships is increasing, and this may negatively impact fish survival. Fish become stressed by noise, make bad decisions when feeding and faced with predators, and they are impacted by noisy conditions during development. Their ability to attract mates, a process that requires vocal behaviors for reproductive success, could ultimately be affected.

Want to learn more about this remarkable study? Check out how Scientists search for regional accents in cod.


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