Skip to main content

Tuning In to Undersea Sounds

anthropogenic noise, sl, nsf, marine biology, acoustics, coral reefs
Erica Staaterman, with an underwater acoustic recorder (Image credit: Courtesy E. Staaterman)

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Marine biologist Erica Staaterman is tuned in to the sounds of the undersea world. She records and analyzes the noise of life underwater, and as a result can tell you what a lobster sounds like, or a mantis shrimp (it rumbles).

"Most people don't really consider anything beyond whales and dolphins, maybe seals, as sound producers, but it turns out that a lot of things in the ocean make sound," she says. "Fish, crab, lobsters, shrimp — you name it." In fact, making sounds and hearing are important activities in the ocean, she argues; think about how efficiently sound travels underwater and, conversely, how difficult it can be to see in the ocean's murky depths.

For her Ph.D. studies at the University of Miami, Staaterman is investigating just how critical sound may be to larval reef fish. It's possible the larvae use acoustic soundscapes — specifically, reef noise — to help navigate through the open ocean to the coral reef where they will settle. Staaterman's results could have implications for coral reef conservation efforts as well as investigations into the effects of anthropogenic noise sources, such as vessel traffic or military sonar.

A filmmaker in addition to being a scientist, Staaterman recently took third place in a video contest marking the 60th anniversary of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She is a co-founder of the Beneath the Waves film festival, hosted annually by the Benthic Ecology Meeting and traveling in mini-screenings around the world. A certified scientific diver, Staaterman has fieldwork experience in Hawaii, Panama, French Polynesia and Australia. Below, she answers our 10 questions.

Name: Erica Staaterman Institution: Miami University Field of Study: Marine Biology

Editor's Note: The researchers depicted in ScienceLives articles have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.