Environment

Rime of the Modern Mariner

By Josie GlausiuszJan 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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Oh, some may see the ocean as silent and serene But Rodney Rountree knows that's just a dream. Down within the briny deep, Fishes grunt and grind their teeth. Sea robins like chickens cluck Toadfish growl when they are struck. Cod and haddock drum when mating Slower, though, when they're just waiting. Muscle beating on swim bladder, These fish tap to show their ardor. Some fish thump when they are spawning Others bellow as a warning. There are fish that honk and bark Sheltered in the salty dark.

Rountree, who's at UMass Amherst Is in fish song rather well versed. Sometimes he's at sea for weeks Listening for their watery squeaks. Hydrophones beneath the surface He heeds fish calls with earnest purpose. Sounding out their rhythmic blather Tells him where such fish do gather. Critical to their survival Safe habitats could aid revival. Endangered cod could be protected From the brink of their near-deathbed.

Ecologist of things marine, Rountree finds the unforeseen. Around Cape Cod the striped cusk eel Is a fish the sea conceals; Now he knows that it abounds, Hammering out its raucous sounds. Such techniques are noninvasive, Trawl surveys far more abrasive. U.S. Navy submarines Even used fish noise as screens; Hiding out among the shoals Shielded there from foe patrols.

The search for oil brings seismic blasting, With effects that could be lasting: Booms that bounce into Earth's crust Could auditory signals bust. "Sound that overwhelms the ear," he fears, "will deafen fish so they can't hear."

If you wish to learn some more, See fishecology.org.

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