Bioacoustics Research Program

elephant cutout

The Bioacoustics Research Program develops and uses digital technology, including equipment and software, to record and analyze the sounds of wildlife around the globe. By listening to wildlife, we advance the understanding of animal communication and monitor the health of wildlife populations. We help policy makers, industries, and governments use this information to minimize the impact of human activities on wildlife and natural environments.

The mission of the Bioacoustics Research Program is to collect and interpret sounds in nature by developing and applying innovative technologies across multiple ecological scales to inspire and inform conservation of wildlife and habitats.

Visit the Bioacoustics Research Program website.

Highlights

Protecting North Atlantic Right Whales

We use our underwater devices to record, monitor, and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales along the East Coast. Fewer than 500 of these animals remain. We use this information to understand how whales are affected by energy exploration, shipping, and other human activities. With partners, we have established the Right Whale Listening Network in Massachusetts Bay to notify ship captains to slow down when right whales are detected nearby, preventing deadly collisions.

Noise Pollution in the Ocean

Marine mammals rely on sound to communicate with one another. Yet the ocean is so noisy from shipping, underwater energy exploration and development, sonar exploration, and other human activities that we are drowning them out, including the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. Our Bioacoustics Research Program is studying the responses of marine mammals to noise in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and in other areas to assess the long-range impact of this “acoustic smog.”

Listening to Endangered Forest Elephants

In the dense forests of Central Africa, endangered forest elephants are difficult to study and protect because they are so difficult to see. We use automated sound-recording equipment to collect their vocalizations. This gives our Elephant Listening Project and local biologists valuable information about elephant numbers, movements, and communication. We use this information to improve our understanding of elephants and to protect their dwindling numbers from poaching and disturbance from logging and seismic energy exploration.

Capturing Animal Sounds

Cornell Lab scientists and engineers build and deploy automated recording devices that capture the sounds of animals on land or in the ocean. Underwater devices help decipher marine mammal communication, census populations, and gauge the impact of human-caused noise pollution. Land-based recording units monitor endangered birds, forest elephants, and other animals in remote and inhospitable places. Automated recording devices also document the calls of songbirds that migrate overhead at night.

Analyzing Animal Sounds

The massive amount of digital acoustic data gathered by our remote recordings devices created the need for a way to automatically scan all that data to pull out sounds of interest for further study. Sound analysis software created at the Cornell Lab, called Raven and Raven Lite, is used by scientists and anyone interested in animal vocalizations to display sounds visually as spectrograms so they can be measured and analyzed.

Sound Analysis Workshops

To help scientists use the latest technologies to study the sounds of wildlife, we offer professional workshops twice per year at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, and occasionally at other sites in the United States and abroad. Our workshops have been attended by participants from more than 30 countries. If you’re interested in attending please contact Liz Rowland, edr6@cornell.edu.

Science of Sound Exhibits

Our Raven Exhibit system visually displays and records wildlife sounds for exhibits in science museums, zoos, aquaria, nature centers, and other educational venues. Raven Exhibit software is used in our popular sound studio in the Visitor Center at the Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity. To inquire about Raven Exhibit, contact Tish Klein.

Training Future Leaders

We engage undergraduates in hands-on research and advise graduate students in bioacoustics research. Our students lead diverse studies, including the effects of noise pollution on marine wildlife, threats to endangered forest elephant populations, and vocal communication among birds.

A self-paced online tutorial. Learn to ID birds by size and shape
Birds of North America Online, ultimate source for bird info, join for $5/month
Shop for our Causes, your purchase supports our mission
Get delicious, Bird Friendly certified coffee from Birds and Beans.