Listening to Animals

Scientists Compare Notes on Critter Acoustics

Up close with an elephant seal.

Up close with an elephant seal. Paul A. Souders/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Paul A. Souders/Corbis

Match the Animal with its Sound

audio icon Animal 1

audio icon Animal 2

audio icon Animal 3

audio icon Animal 4

audio icon Animal 5

A sleeping bat.

A sleeping bat. Torleif Svensson/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Torleif Svensson/Corbis
A Hamadryas baboon.

A Hamadryas baboon. Renee Lynn/Corbis hide caption

itoggle caption Renee Lynn/Corbis

Answers

1) C. Male elephant seals, 2) E. Sea lions, 3) A. Baboons, 4) B. Bats, 5) D. Female elephant seals

For the first time ever, scientists from around the world convened a meeting dedicated solely to animal acoustics — how animals use sound. At the University of Maryland, experts listened to grasshopper leg-scraping, seal belching, fish croaking and baboon screaming. NPR's Christopher Joyce attended the meeting and reports on what scientists were listening for, and why.

Listen to the audio clips on the left, and try to match them to the animals listed below. Answers are listed at the bottom of the page.

A. A male baboon tries to impress his rivals and perhaps attract females. Julia Fischer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, says the baboon is projecting his stamina, his endurance and his size.

B. A bat begins to move in on an insect. Cindy Moss of the University of Maryland says the bat produces sounds at a very high rate — referred to as the terminal buzz. Bats use echolocation — the process of identifying an object by the sound of the echo — to find food.

C. A male elephant seal bellows. Brandon Southall of the Joseph M. Long Marine Laboratory says when male elephant seals fight, their vocalizations are paired with the outcome of the fights. In future cases, Southall says, there's no need for the physical battle to occur again because the vocalizations themselves serve as reminders of the previous outcome of the fight.

D. A female elephant seal sounds off. Her vocalization is raspier than the male's, Southall says.

E. California sea lions bark. The male sea lions are attempting to control the movement of other female sea lions, or males impinging on their territory.

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