Acoustics in the Cetaceans’ Environment: A Multimedia Educational Package

Lead PI: Dr. Marc S. Dantzker, Cornell University

The majority of the public perceives the undersea realm to be a largely silent world. While many people are aware that whales produce haunting songs or cacophonous clicks and whistles, most don’t know the extent to which marine mammals use sounds to communicate, survey their environment, and find food. More surprising to many is that the sea is alive with sounds of all kinds, from bubbles in breaking waves and rumbling undersea volcanoes, to croaking fish, snapping shrimp, and rasping mollusks. The general public has a poor understanding of how the behavior of sound in marine environments compares with our terrestrial world. They also know little about the critical role sound plays in marine research and marine mammal conservation. While there is increasing public concern over rising levels of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment, there is a lack of comprehensive, broadly disseminated information about sound in the sea. This makes it difficult for the public to make informed decisions about sound-related marine issues. This project will help ensure that accurate information about sound in the sea is made available to as many people as possible.

Using cetaceans as our focal subjects, we will create state-of-the-art outreach and education materials about sound in the seas. We propose the creation of a comprehensive multimedia educational package built from a set of top-tier materials that we will gather and produce — professional-quality surround-sound environmental recordings and High Definition (HD) video acquired at four National Marine Sanctuaries; 3D scientific illustrations and data visualizations of key concepts in ocean acoustics; and teacher-tested interactive exercises created by one of the top teams in interactive media. These raw materials will be combined into a multifaceted set of outreach products that will be distributed to thousands of classrooms and organizations in hard format, and thousands more over the Internet. Unlike any other media project of its kind, all of the media acquired for this project will be archived and available as part of a growing online public archive, for repurposing by educators, researchers, and conservationists.

The package, being developed with the working title “Sea of Sound,” includes:

  • Capture of High Definition video and surround-sound audio of several species of marine mammals and their varied habitats, for incorporation into Cornell University’s Macaulay Library, part of the National Science Digital Library System. This material will be available in perpetuity for research, education and conservation applications. (In partnership with NOAA)
  • Documentation of a variety of acoustic-based marine research projects, also available for education and outreach. (In partnership with NOAA)
  • Creation of dynamic data visualizations and compelling interactive exercises that clearly illustrate complex concepts such as the near-field effects of pile drivers, and the trans-ocean reach of sounds in the SOFAR channel. (In partnership with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Marine Acoustics, Inc., and Cornell’s Bioacoustic Research Program)
  • Creation of a DVD and curricula about sound in the sea. (In partnership with WGBH Boston Public Television and Apple Computer)
  • Creation of Web-based interactive activities, such as the ability to see the effects of adding noise sources to one’s own virtual sea. The web will also add deeper scientific content, with in-depth looks at active research programs and timely oceanographic news. (In partnership with WGBH Boston Public Television and Apple Computer)
  • Creation of a documentary that takes people on a “whale’s ear” journey of the seas. Using cetaceans as animal “guides,” this documentary will let people see and hear the whales’ world, bringing the sound of the seas into homes and classrooms around the world. We will explore Hawaiian waters with humpback whales, the waters off the Pacific Northwest with orca, coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands with spinner dolphins, and the Lower Gulf of Maine with Northern right whales. We will spotlight researchers using sounds to study the oceans, and the myriad ways in which people create undersea sounds through activities like shipping and drilling. (In partnership with NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program)

This project will answer the need for comprehensive, top-quality outreach materials with which to tell the story of sound in the sea, helping to develop a more informed public about the role people play in managing a healthy ocean, for all species.

Number of Years: 2


  • Cornell University
  • WGBH Foundation
  • National Center for Supercomputing Applications
  • Marine Acoustics Incorporated

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