The health of a habitat isn’t usually measured by sound, but bioacoustician Michael Stocker has spent his career listening to organisms in their ‘acoustic communities’ to understand exactly what sound can teach us about ecological relationships.
Founder of Ocean Conservation Research, Stocker spoke last Tuesday at our Monthly Gathering in San Francisco. Accompanied by sound clips of crickets, dolphins, birds, and fish, Stocker shared his unique approach to the largely unknown relationship between how sound works, and how organisms use it.
Creating Relationships Through Sound
As an example, Stocker explained that dolphins have developed a complex relationship to sound that allows them to be the social creatures they are. Like bats, dolphins use echolocation- also called biosonar- to navigate their environments. However, dolphins' biosonar has an added layer of complexity that can be measured on sonar readings as well as observed in dolphin behavior.
While on the move, dolphins create multiple layers of sounds: one to navigate and sense their surroundings, and one to communicate with each other. This means that they have the advanced ability to simultaneously be ‘looking around,’ and telling each other what they’re seeing.
Even more interesting is that mother dolphins name their offspring. The mother will assign a unique sound to each child, which it uses to identify itself throughout life. So when a dolphin is in distress, it will call out the name of another nearby, like a cry for help.
Most importantly, however, Stocker continually emphasized the 'collaborative, cooperative' element in all sonar relationships. He used the example of Japanese families who relied on crickets to alarm them of invaders.
The crickets became so familiar with the individuals in each household that they continued chirping even when humans were very close. But when the crickets stopped, the families knew someone else had arrived. In this way, organisms use sound to benefit themselves and connect to their surroundings.
We Are All Connected Through the Soundscape
"A healthy habitat can be heard," Stocker said.
Whether through scientific research like his, or the wisdom shared by our indigenous partners, we are deepening our understanding of just how intimately all organisms are connected.
As we realize this connection, we recognize the human impact on our sound communities. One of Ocean Conservation Research's biggest missions is to understand the effects of noise pollution on marine life.
The Pachamama Alliance hosts Monthly Gatherings like these every second Tuesday of the month. Each gathering features a different speaker, discussion, or presentation where participants can engage in the inspiring ideas that are changing the world.
Check out our upcoming events including Monthly Gatherings!
Learn more in Michael Stocker's book 'Hear Where We Are: Sound, Ecology, and Sense of Place.'