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Joe Sisneros’ fish studies featured on KUOW

Scientists Study ‘Singing Fish’ For Ways To Improve Human Hearing

  JUL 8, 2018

You know that expression, "Leave no stone unturned?"

That’s how Washington State University neuroscientist Allison Coffin goes about catching midshipman fish — at least during mating season.

Standing on the rocky, oyster-covered shoreline of Hood Canal, she rolled over a beach-ball sized rock to reveal a small pool of water just barely covering two fish.

“Oh yeah! Another female,” she said. “And then there’s the male right there.”

Because it’s low tide, some of the fish she and her research partner Joe Sisneros uncovered aren’t in any water at all.

That makes this area prime fishing grounds for the researchers, who say the ears of these fish could teach us how to improve our own hearing.

Singing Fish

Sisneros, a University of Washington neuroscientist, picked up a male fish to point out the pattern of white spots on its belly. Its spots glow in the dark, and they look a bit like the buttons on a midshipman’s naval uniform – hence, the name.

As the fish struggled to free itself from his grasp, it made a noticeable buzzing sound.

“Hear him? That was a series of grunts," Sisneros said. "He’s mad.”

And grunting is just the beginning of the sounds this fish can make.

“When it gets dark, they start to sing," Coffin said. "It’s a hum. There isn’t a lot of variety to it. They only know one note. I guess it could be more like monks chanting in a way."

As the males are singing, the females pick a nest to release their eggs into. The bright orange eggs stick to the undersides of the rocks. So if a female has visited a male’s nest, you can see the eggs by simply lifting the rock off the shore at low tide.

Read the entire article here.

The same article, but with additional photos and an audio portion is here on Oregon Public Broadcasting.