Researchers listen under the ice for fish-distracting sounds

The ice is starting to form on Great Slave Lake, and a recent paper shows that creatures living under the ice can hear what we do above it.

“Humans are making a difference,” says Bruce Martin, an acoustics researcher whose paper came out in the Journal of Great Lakes Research. “It may be something we have to be aware of, especially if there’s a lot of ice road traffic going for a development.”

Martin was working with audio recordings collected under the ice near Yellowknife. The recordings captured the sounds of passing snowmobiles, turboprop airplanes and — the point of his research — burbot, a fish that breeds under the ice. 

The recordings were aiming to capture the amorous sounds of burbot: to see whether the fish vocalize during the mating season.

Martin says the racket coming from above the ice likely doesn’t affect the fish too much, except in “probably a 100-metre corridor where it might mask this burbot sound.”

“I don’t think it is likely making a difference to anything that’s going to care,” he says.

Of all the noise detected under the ice, the most common was one that has been around all along, and that the fish would have co-evolved with. 

“The primary source of noise was the ice cracking,” he says

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