Observing Fish Spawning by Listening to Their Sounds

Christopher Biggs
University of Texas Marine Science Institute
Texas State Aquarium Teen STEM Cafe


Thanks to Teen Leader Madison Gonzalez for writing the blog!

If a fish makes a sound in the middle of the ocean, does anyone hear it? This is an interesting question to ask, and to answer it we must first ask: is anyone listening? To answer this question, yes people are listening. On February 25th, the Texas State Aquarium received a guest speaker at the Teen Science Café. Chris Biggs is currently a graduate student at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. He spoke about his research on the sounds of fish and how this correlates with spawning. During Hurricane Harvey, he recorded the sounds of the fish along the coast where the eye of the hurricane hit. His findings showed that they did not stop spawning during that time and weren’t greatly affected by the hurricane. During his presentation, he spoke about the ways fish make sound. The three ways he described were by using their teeth, rubbing their bones, and using their air bladder. He went on to explain how important this communication was in understanding fish behavior such as spawning and protection.



Hands on Activity

In the Nearshore exhibit at the Aquarium, Chris demonstrated how he set up hydrophones, or underwater microphones, in the ocean. Then he placed a hydrophone in the water so that the teens that attended the cafe could listen to the sounds of the fish. In the classroom, three tubs of water were set up with hydrophones inside. One was only water, one contained seaweed, and the last contained bubblers. For the activity, the teens made noises underwater inside the tubs while wearing headphones so they could listen for the noises. In the end, they discovered that the box with only water produced the clearest sound. The seaweed absorbed the sound in the second box. The bubbles blocked noises from being heard in the third box.