This article appeared in the July 26, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Silence of the eels: The fish listener capturing the sounds of the sea.

Alfredo Sosa/Staff
Marine biologist Rodney Rountree, “The Fish Listener,” prepares for a night listening session at the Cotuit Town Dock on July 24, 2019 in Cotuit, Massachusetts. Dr. Rountree specializes in the sounds that fish and other aquatic organisms make.

Welcome to the Monitor Daily! Today we launch our ocean series, “Peering into the deep”; examine why Puerto Ricans cried, “No más”; and look at the “sober curious” approach to avoiding alcohol, traditional horse racing in South Africa, and Quentin Tarantino’s new film.

But first, startling fact No. 1: Fish chatter – and honk and grunt.

Startling fact No. 2: There are people who study fish sounds.

Earlier this week, Monitor reporters Eva Botkin-Kowacki and Rebecca Asoulin headed to Cotuit, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod to interview Rodney Rountree, one of the world’s few fish listeners.

From 7 to 10 p.m., when the cusk eel chorus was supposed to reach its height, they sat on the town dock with Dr. Rountree, donned earphones attached to a hydrophone, and heard, well, not very much. The eels were unusually silent that night.

“The fish noises that we did hear were largely honks from toadfish,” says Eva, “and some grunts as well.”

“I love diving, being underwater,” says Rebecca, “When you’re down there, you can’t hear because you’re underwater. So that was the first time I heard the ocean in any sort of meaningful way.”

Dr. Rountree records the sounds – he even catches fish and puts them in a miniature kiddie pool, so he can “audition” them. The idea is to connect the sound with the fish so he can pick out mating and distress calls and begin to understand how fish react when disturbed by predators – or humans. Stay tuned for an audio story from that trip in a later installment of our oceans series.

Humans search space for extraterrestrial life, while “we have this alien world right here on Earth, the ocean, particularly the deep sea, that we know so little about,” Eva says. “That’s my main takeaway from [this series]. The more that I learn, the more I realize just how amazingly diverse life, ecosystems, habitats are right here on Earth.”

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This article appeared in the July 26, 2019 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/26 edition