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Soniferous Fishes of Massachusetts

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Abstract and Figures

Since the seminal work of Fish and Mowbray (1970), little advancement has been made towards the study of soniferous fishes from the marine waters of the Northeastern United States. A review of the literature suggests at least 51 fishes are vocal in New England waters (Table 1), although many of these species are uncommon stragglers to these waters. Spontaneous sound production is known from only about half of these species. However, laboratory studies are often hampered by the difficulty of maintaining healthy specimens, and the difficulty of inducing natural behaviors such as spawning under confinement. This is further complicated by the fact that many fish are primarily vocal during the spawning season, and may not vocalize until maturity, and because vocal behavior is usually limited to males (e.g., haddock and weakfish).The objectives of this study were to conduct a pilot field survey of soniferous fishes in Massachusetts’s waters to determine what species are vocal and examine temporal patterns in vocal behavior. However, because of the unexpected finding of widespread calls of the striped cusk-eel on Cape Cod, this paper will focus on this enigmatic species.
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Soniferous Fishes of Massachusetts
Rodney Rountree1,Francis Juanes2,and Joseph E. Blue3
1School for Marine Science and Technology,UMASS Dartmouth, 706 Rodney French Blvd., New
Bedford,MA 02744-1221 rrountree@UMassD.Edu
2Department of Natural Resources Conservation, University of Massachusetts,Amherst, MA 01003
3President, Leviathan Legacy, Inc., 3313 Northglen Drive,Orlando, FL 32806 jblue46498@aol.com
Introduction
Since the seminal work of Fish and Mowbray (1970),little advancement has been made towards the
study of soniferous fishes from the marine waters of the Northeastern United States. A review of the
literature suggests at least 51 fishes are vocal in New England waters (Table 1), although many of
these species are uncommon stragglers to these waters. Spontaneous sound production is known
from only about half of these species. However,laboratory studies are often hampered by the diffi-
culty of maintaining healthy specimens, and the difficulty of inducing natural behaviors such as
spawning under confinement. This is further complicated by the fact that many fish are primarily
vocal during the spawning season, and may not vocalize until maturity, and because vocal behavior
is usually limited to males (e.g., haddock and weakfish). The objectives of this study were to conduct
a pilot field survey of soniferous fishes in Massachusetts’s waters to determine what species are
vocal and examine temporal patterns in vocal behavior. However,because of the unexpected find-
ing of widespread calls of the striped cusk-eel on Cape Cod,this paper will focus on this enigmatic
species.
Table 1(below).Partial list of species known to be capable of sound production based on field and/or laboratory
studies, and which occur at least seasonally in New England (Long Island to Maine) estuarine and shelf waters (Fish
et al. 1952,Fish and Mowbray 1970, Hawkins and Rasmussen 1978,Tavolga 1980, Mann et al.1997). *Sound produc-
tion capability assumed based on the presence of anatomical structures usually associated with vocalization.(All
species were not necessarily subjected to both mechanical and electrical stimulation in the Fish et al.1952 and Fish
and Mowbray 1970 studies).
Scientific name Common name Sounds produced spontaneous
ly (S) or under either mechanical
(M) or electrical (E) stimulation
Anguillidae American eel Weak: M,E and S
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Proceedings from the International Workshop on the Applications of Passive Acoustics to Fisheries
Anguilla rostrata American eel Weak: M,E and S
Clupeidae American eel Weak: M,E and S
Brevoortia tyrannus Atlantic menhaden Weak: M
Clupea harengus Atlantic herring Weak: M, E
Opisthonema oglinum Atlantic thread herring Weak: M,E
Gadidae
*Brosme brosme Cusk ?
Gadus morhua Atlantic cod Strong: M, S
Melanogrammus aeglefinus Haddock Strong: S
Merluccius bilinearis Silver hake Weak: M
Pollachius virens Pollock Weak: M
Urophycis chuss Red hake Weak: E
Urophycis regia Spotted hake Weak: E
Ophidiidae
*Lepophidium profundorum Fawn cusk-eel ?
Ophidion marginatum Striped cusk-eel Strong: S
Batrachoididae
Opsanus tau Oyster toadfish Strong: S
Dactylopteridae
Dactylopterus volitans Flying gurnard Strong: M
Triglidae
Prionotus carolinus Northern searobin Strong: M,S
Prionotus evolans Striped searobin Strong: S
Cottidae
Myoxocephalus aenaeus Grubby Weak: M,E
Myoxocephalus Longhorn sculpin Strong:M,S
octodecemspinosus
Percichthyidae
Morone saxatilis Striped bass Moderate:M,E
Serranidae
Centropristis striata Black sea bass Weak:M,E
Pomatomidae
Pomatomus saltatrix Bluefish Weak: M,E
Carangidae
Alectis ciliaris African pompano Strong: M
Caranx crysos Blue runner Moderate: M,S
Caranx hippos Crevalle jack Strong: M,S
Caranx latus Horse-eye jack Strong: M,E,S
Caranx ruber Bar jack Strong: M,S
Chloroscombrus chrysurus Atlantic bumper Moderate: M,E
Selene setapinnis Atlantic moonfish Strong: M
Selene vomer Lookdown Strong: M
Seriola dumerili Greater amberjack Moderate: S
Lutjanidae
Ocyurus chrysurus Yellowtail snapper Weak: M,E,S
Lutjanus griseus Gray snapper Weak M,E
Haemulidae
Orthopristis chrysoptera Pigfish Strong:M,S
Sparidae
Stenotomus chrysops Scup Weak: M
Sciaenidae
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Bairdiella chrysoura Silver perch Strong:M,S
Cynoscion nebulosus Spotted seatrout ?
Cynoscion regalis Weakfish Strong: M,S
Leiostomus xanthurus Spot Moderate: M,E,S
Menticirrhus saxatilis Northern kingfish Weak: M
Micropogon undulatus Atlantic croaker Strong:M,S
Pogonias cromis Black drum Strong: M,S
Labridae
Tautoga onitis Tautog Moderate: E,S
Tautogolabrus adspersus Cunner Weak: E
Balistidae
Aluterus schoepfi Orange filefish Moderate: M,E,S
Balistes capriscus Gray triggerfish Moderate: M,E,S
Monacanthus hispidus Planehead filefish Moderate: M,E
Ostraciidae
Lactophrys quadricornis Scrawled cowfish Moderate: M
Tetraodontidae
Chilomycterus schoepfi Striped burrfish Moderate: M,E
Sphoeroides maculatus Northern puffer Moderate: M
Molidae
Mola mola Ocean sunfish Strong: M
Methods
Recordings of fish sounds were made at 12 different sites across Cape Cod at least once between
June and October 2001. However,the primary sampling location was the Cotuit town landing
which was sampled on 18 different dates, including 5 dates on which monitoring was conducted
over the diel cycle. Except for the diel studies, most sampling was conducted around sunset, usually
beginning 1 to 2 hours before sunset and continuing for 2 to 3 hours after sunset. To obtain infor-
mation on the daily pattern of fish calls, diel studies were conducted on five different dates at Cotuit
town landing. For these studies, sounds were recorded approximately from 1300-1400, 1900-2300,
0100-0200, and 0400-0600,corresponding to afternoon, sunset, night,and sunrise periods, respec-
tively. Low cost hydrophones (Arretec, PB 3098 Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK2 2AD, United Kingdom)
were deployed from docks, piers, jetties and small boats and recorded to a hi-fi VCR. Occasionally,
recordings were made to a Sony hand-held tape recorder (model TCM-929). In addition, whenever
possible, video recordings were made simultaneously to the VCR using a hand-deployed underwa-
ter video camera equipped with infrared lights (models made by Vista Cam,9911 Goodhue St. NE,
Blaine MN 55449, and Aqua vu, Nature Vision Inc., 213 NW 4th St.,Brainerd, MN 56401). Sounds were
captured to a PC while playing back from a VCR using Cool Edit 2000 (made by Syntrillium Software
Corporation). Some spectral analyses were also conducted using Signal for Windows (Engineering
Design, 43 Newton St, Belmont,MA 02478). To quantify call frequency, 1-4 hour sound samples were
divided into 10-minute segments and a randomly selected 2 minute sound clip was obtained from
each. Calls for toadfish, striped cusk-eel and searobins were identified and counted. Reference
sound clips of unknown calls were made and used to make counts of unknown sounds by type
(e.g.,“grunt-A,etc.).
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Proceedings from the International Workshop on the Applications of Passive Acoustics to Fisheries
Results
Over 53 VHS and 12 cassette tapes comprising over 160 hours of recordings were collected. Calls of
striped cusk-eels, Ophidion marginatum,oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau,and striped searobin, Prionotus
evolans,dominated the observations. Several unidentified calls were also common.We are continu-
ing our efforts to identify these calls. In addition, various sources of natural and man-made noise
were also recorded including: outboard boats,barges, jet-skies, dock noises,fishing noises, depth-
finders, and gas release from sediments. Based on the occurrence of vocal choruses, we found sun-
set spawning aggregations of the striped cusk-eels at eight of 12 locations sampled across the
length of Cape Cod,including two sites (Barnstable Harbor and Provincetown Harbor) on the north
shore. Cusk-eels were recorded from the first sampling date (June 11) through the end of August,
but abruptly stopped by early September. Oyster toadfish were also already calling at the start of
the field season, but sunset choruses had ceased by mid-July. Striped searobin calls were not associ-
ated with sunset, but occurred throughout the night. Searobin calls were most frequent in August
and September but were still present in October. The cusk-eel sounds recorded in MA are nearly
identical to striped cusk-eel sounds recorded by the first author under laboratory conditions in New
Jersey (Mann et al.1997), and more recent sounds recorded in the field and attributed to stripe cusk-
eels in Narragansett Bay (Perkins 2002) and North Carolina (Sprague and Luczkovich 2001). Our
attribution of these sounds to the striped cusk-eel is further validated by the capture of a 170 mm
TL specimen while recording sounds in Cotuit, MA in July 2001, and by subsequent sightings of a
larger individual later that same month. Cusk-eels can sometimes be observed in the shallows at
night with the aid of a spot light (Rountree, pers. Observ.). In Figure 1,chatters vary in relative ampli-
tude and range form 8 to 16 pulses and call times of 275 msec to 730 msec. The dominant frequen-
cy was 1098-1866 Hz (compared to the toadfish call at the beginning of the sequence at 171-585
Hz). A sample call recorded from Provincetown,MA on August 23, 2001 is shown in Figure 2. This
call is considerably longer (31 pulses, 1,715 msec) than those in Figure 1, but is still well within the
range characteristic of the species (Mann et al.1997, Sprague and Luczkovich 2001). A single repre-
sentative pulse has most energy between 914 and 1524 Hz (Fig.2).
Striped cusk-eel calls can be heard sporadically throughout the day, but calls clearly become more
frequent at sunset (Fig.3). Peak number of calls occurred between 20 to 60 minutes after sunset,
and declined to near zero within two hours. In contrast, the oyster toadfish calls more frequently
during the day,but also exhibits a strong increase in activity associated with sunset (Figure 4).
Although data are more limited, peak activity occur 1-2 hours after sunset, with more gradual
declines through the night compared to the striped cusk-eel.
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Proceedings from the International Workshop on the Applications of Passive Acoustics to Fisheries
Discussion
It is significant that the striped cusk-eel was the most frequently heard and widely distributed
species encountered during this study as it has previously been thought to occur from Block Island
south to Florida, with only rare stragglers occurring as far north as Cape Cod (Collette and Klein-
MacPhee 2002), despite extensive faunal surveys in the region over several decades.This finding
nicely demonstrates the usefulness of passive acoustics as a supplement to traditional survey meth-
ods, particularly for species difficult to sample in other ways. The seasonal and daily pattern of
striped cusk-eel vocal activity agrees with published laboratory findings (Mann et al.1997, Sprague
and Luczkovich 2001). Striped cusk-eels were already chorusing by mid-June when sampling
began, but had stopped by mid-September in good agreement with previous studies. Call frequen-
cy increases rapidly at sunset developing into a loud chorus that lasts from 1 to 2 hours (Fig. 3).
Captive cusk-eels have been observed to chorus after sunset as part of courtship and spawning
behavior (Mann et al.1997, Rountree and Bowers-Altman 2002). We believe that our observations
suggest widespread spawning of striped cusk-eels within estuaries of both the north and south
shores of Cape Cod. The species’ cryptic nocturnal behavior,and habit of remaining burrowed dur-
ing the day likely account for the failure of previous researchers using conventional sampling gears
(i.e., trawls and seine sampling mostly limited to daylight hours) to recognize its importance to the
region. At this time the northern range of the striped cusk-eel must be reconsidered. How much
farther up the cost the species extends is unknown. It is notable that Geoghegan et al. (1998)
recorded a single adult striped cusk-eel at Seabrook, New Hampshire and argued that it might rep-
resent a small local population. Therefore,we suspect that reproducing populations of this species
may occur at least to New Hampshire waters. However,the scarcity of ophidiid eggs in ichthyoplank-
ton surveys of the region is puzzling (e.g., Fahay 1992) and future studies on the distribution and
ecology of this cryptic species are needed. Boat sounds were problematic during the day,some-
times occurring during 50-99% of the sound sample clips. During these times, sounds of fishes
could not be heard above the boat’s noise. Boat noise was rare during the evening hours. The
impact of boat-associated noise on the behavior of fishes is poorly known, but it had a strong
impact on our ability to record day-time fish sounds. It is hoped that the newly available archive of
fish sounds originally published by Fish and Mowbray (1970) and recently repackaged by the
University of Rhode Island (Rountree et al.2002) will aid in the identification of the unknown calls
recorded on Cape Cod. In summary this study has demonstrated the usefulness of even low-cost
passive acoustics technology as a tool to survey estuarine and marine fishes. Information on the
temporal and spatial patterns of fish vocal behavior can be used to gain insight into temporal and
spatial patterns in habitat use patterns by vocal species. In particular,identification of spawning
habitats through passive acoustics surveys is promising.
Acknowledgements
Megan Hendry-Brogan and Katie Anderson are thanked for diligent work in both the field and labo-
ratory to collect and process fish sound data. This project received major funding from the
Northeast and Great Lakes National Undersea Research Center,which also provided extensive logis-
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Proceedings from the International Workshop on the Applications of Passive Acoustics to Fisheries
tical support. The Woods Hole Sea Grant College Program also provided supporting funds.
The Sounds Conservancy,Quebec-Labrador Foundation/Atlantic Center for the Environment provid-
ed a stipend for Megan’s fieldwork.
Literature Cited
Collette, B.B., and G. Klein-MacPhee. (eds.). 2002.Bigelow and Schroeder’s Fishes of the Gulf of Maine.
3rd Edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 748 p.
Fahay, M.P. 1992. Development and distribution of cusk eel eggs and larvae in the middle Atlantic
Bight with a description of Ophidion robinsi n.sp. (Teleostei:Ophidiidae). Copeia 1992(3):799-819.
Fish, M.P., A.S.Kelsey,Jr.,and W.H. Mowbray. 1952. Studies on the production of underwater sound by
North Atlantic coastal fishes. J.Mar.Res. 11:180-193.
Fish, M.P., and W.H. Mowbray. 1970. Sounds of Western North Atlantic fishes. Johns Hopkins Press,
Baltimore, MD. 205 p.
Geoghegan, P., J.N.Strube, and R. A.Sher. 1998.The first occurrence of the striped cusk eel, Ophidion
marginatum (Dekay), in the Gulf of Mexico. Northeastern Naturalist 5(4):363-366.
Hawkins, A.D. 1986.Underwater sound and fish behaviour.pp.114-151. In:The Behaviour of Teleost
Fishes. (ed.T.J. Pitcher). Groom-Hellm. London.
Hawkins, A.D., and K.J.Rasmussen. 1978. The calls of gadoid fish.J. Mar. Biol. Ass.U.K. 58:891-911.
Mann, D.A., J.Bowers-Altman, and R.A. Rountree.1997. Sounds produced by the striped cusk-eel
Ophidion marginatum (Ophidiidae) during courtship and spawning. Copeia 1997(3):610-612.
Perkins, P.J. 2002. Drumming and chattering sounds recorded underwater in Rhode Island.
Northeastern Naturalist 8(3):359-370.
Rountree, R.A. and J.Bowers-Altman. 2002. Soniferous behavior of the striped cusk-eel,Ophidion
marginatum.Bioacoustics 12(2/3):240-242.
Rountree, R.A., P.J. Perkins, R.D.Kenney, and K.R. Hinga. 2002.Sounds of Western North Atlantic Fishes:
Data rescue. Bioacoustics 12(2/3):242-244.
Sprague,M.W.and J. J. Luczkovich. 2001.Do striped cusk eels, Ophidion marginatum (Ophidiidae) pro-
duce the ‘chatter’sound attributed to weakfish,Cynoscion regalis (Sciaenidae)? Copeia 2001 (3): 854-859.
Tavolga, W.N. 1980.Hearing and sound production in fishes in relation to fisheries management.
P.102-123, In: Bardach, J.E., J.J. Magnuson,R.C. May, and J.M. Reinhart (eds.).Fish Behavior and its use
in the capture and culture of fishes. ICLARM Conference Proceedings 5, 512 p. International Center
for Living Aquatic Resources Management, Manila, Philippines.
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Illustrations and Diagrams
Ca l
Toadfish
Ca ll 1
Call 2
Ca ll 3
Call 4
Ca ll 5
Call 6
Figure 1. Representative sample of cusk-eel calls recorded in Cotuit,MA on June 20th 2001.The lower panel shows a
string of six separate cusk-eel calls,likely from six different individuals. The first call overlaps with that of a toadfish.
The upper left figures show the waveform and spectrogram for call 3. The power spectrum of call 3 is shown in the
upper right panel.
Figure 2. Single chatter attributed to the striped cusk-eel, Ophidion marginatum,recorded from Provincetown, MA on
23 August 2001. The lower panel shows the energy spectrum for the entire call,while the upper panels show the
waveform, energy spectrum and power spectrum of a single pulse.
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Daily Patter n of Cusk-eel C alls
0
25
50
75
100
125
150
175
200
12:00 PM 2:24 PM 4: 48 PM 7:1 2 PM 9 :3 6 P M 12:00 AM 2 :24 AM 4: 48 AM 7:12 AM 9 :36 A M
Ti me
Calls (Number/2min)
June July Sunset
Daily Pattern o f Oyster Toa dfish Calls
0
10
20
30
40
50
12:00 PM 2: 24 PM 4:48 PM 7 :12 PM 9 :36 PM 12 :00 AM 2:2 4 AM 4 :4 8 A M 7: 12 AM
Ti me
Calls (Number/2min)
Sunset Toadfish
Figure 3. Daily pattern of striped cusk-eel, Ophidion marginatum,calls collected on two dates (20-21 June and 2-3 July, 2001).
All calls heard within 2 minutes sound clips were counted. Sample clips were taken randomly from within 10-minute sample
bins. The vertical arrow marks the time of sunset as obtained from a hand-held GPS.
Figure 4. Daily pattern of oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau,call on June 20-21, 2001.
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