Sound of the Sea

onc_octopus_logo_rgbA few days ago I found myself walking through the doors of Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) on my way to a meeting with Tom Dakin, Sensor Technology Development Officer. ONC is an initiative by the University of Victoria and monitors the west, east and north coasts of Canada. As you may well guess, a large focus in their research is our local marine environment off Vancouver Island. I met Dakin at the opening of my recent exhibition and I was honoured to be invited to ONC to hear about what he is researching. Dakin’s area of expertise revolves around underwater acoustics. ONC maintains a network of hydrophones (underwater sound recording devises). With this equipment they can study the calls of marine creatures, passing vessels and even aircrafts! These sounds are recorded both audibly and visually as a graph (see examples below). The graphs are strikingly beautiful in their colour, repetition and pulsing rhythm. Click here for examples of hydrophone recordings by ONC.

It is a well known fact that sound travels easily through water, but I never realized just how far it travels. In our meeting I learned that some large vessels traveling through the Strait of Georgia may produce sound that reaches almost the entire way from Vancouver Island to the mainland–even if you can’t hear the ship above the water. The hydrophones off Southern Vancouver Island can even detect earthquakes from Alaska and across the Pacific. Apparently our Salish Sea is quite an epicenter of sound. The rumbling and creaking of vessels as they pass through our waterways mix with calls, clicks and whistles of whales, making it difficult to distinguish who is who.

Credit: photo courtesy of Mark Malleson from 'What the Deep Sea Sounds Like'A thought crossed my mind as I was sitting with Dakin in his office space at ONC. That this type of meeting has been going on for hundreds (if not thousands) of years–science and art being brought together. Explorers, biologists, navigators, astrologers, artists. I feel privileged to be part of this conversation and I am excited to see what direction it will take my work. There is nothing quite like the thrill of learning something new about something you enjoy. This was my experience of meeting Dakin and Ocean Networks Canada. If you are interested in Dakin’s work and underwater acoustics, you should check out this article by Live Science.

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