Listening to the Environment: The Emerging Field of Bioacoustics

Daniel Constantinescu—McMaster Health Sciences 2026

The field of bioacoustics is uncovering amazing new ways to study the natural world. It involves investigating the production, transmission, and reception of animal sounds (1). Bioacoustics can be used to assess habitat health, species diversity, wildlife behaviour, and more (2). Audio has the incredible capability of recording species in very large areas, while video is limited by a camera’s field of view (3). Given that commercial audio equipment costs from $500 to $1000 per recorder, using audio for studies has not usually been a viable option in the past. Today; however, the price of recording equipment has decreased drastically.

SOURCE: Noble Research Institute

After the collection of the audio, artificial intelligence algorithms can be used to analyze the recordings. Thousands of hours of audio can be examined rapidly to identify different species, and collect information about them. One can only imagine the benefits of bioacoustics, especially when acquiring data for species such as birds, monkeys, or bats, which are either constantly on the move, or nocturnal. Additionally, this method of research means that humans can spend less time in potentially dangerous environments (1). To continue, audio can contain emotional information because the vocalizations of some species differ during positive and negative experiences (1). As such, scientists can use bioacoustics to find out if certain human activities, such as shipping, or seismic surveys affect certain animals. These assessments can be particularly useful in large-scale farming. Most research to date has been focusing on reducing the negative experiences for animals, but the concept of animal welfare has evolved to ensure that they have positive experiences as well. Emotions can sometimes be deciphered by analyzing the frequency of the sounds that an animal makes. Next, another benefit of bioacoustics is the ability to automatically infer individuality information about animals, with a particular study achieving 71% accuracy in this task (1). Being able to recognize specific animals will make estimating the number of species in a population much more reliable.

SOUND: Yale Environment

There are also interesting techniques being developed in marine science that use bioacoustics. Passive acoustic sonar, for example, is a method of detecting the location of an animal using sound. Multiple microphones are set up, evenly spaced, and the difference in the time taken for the vocalization to reach each microphone can be used for triangulation (1). A challenge that is faced in the field; however, is the need to label sounds that occur in a recording manually. This can take a very long time. That being said, this problem is being addressed with the development of programs that can find the regions of interest in audio on their own. To conclude, it is clear that the field of bioacoustics demonstrates many promising features. In the near future, audio could become a common data collection method, helping scientists make meaningful decisions to help the environment.


1. Mcloughlin MP, Stewart R, McElligott AG. Automated bioacoustics: methods in ecology and conservation and their potential for animal welfare monitoring. J R Soc Interface. 2019 Jun 28;16(155):20190225.

2.  Bioacoustics 101: What is Animal Bioacoustics? [Internet]. Wildlife Acoustics. [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from:

3. Listening to Nature: The Emerging Field of Bioacoustics [Internet]. Yale E360. [cited 2022 Nov 20]. Available from:

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