Underwater divas

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Be sure to look at the top photo on page 16.

No, she didn't forget to put her lipstick on, and no, she's not singing "Un bel dì" from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."

But the damsel pictured at the top of the page can growl, croak, screech, and make other sounds, including what can only be described as singing when getting intimate with potential mates.

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It turns out that whales (which, don't forget, are mammals) are not the only ones crooning under the sea, communicating audibly by voice. Scientists have now documented that hundreds of species of fish, such as the scrawled cowfish pictured, signal to each other by means of sound.

This is not just some quaint finding. There are many practical applications to be derived from further research. The most promising - and the one with the greatest impact on us landlubbers - is in fisheries management.

Fish seem to sing the most, and the loudest, during spawning. Fishing boats equipped with instruments that hear such calls might now refrain from lowering their nets, allowing for the natural replenishment of overfished species.

When it comes to the question of whether life emerged elsewhere in the universe (see just how precise methods of detection have become, page 17) I'm decidedly ambivalent. If it's little things we find, I'm OK with that. But can big things - monsters - be far behind? Maybe I grew up watching too much science fiction on TV.

Human history is a record of tragedy when a technologically advanced civilization comes into contact with one not so advanced. Why do we think this will be different with extraterrestrial encounters?

E-mail Ideas@csps.com.

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