Multiple studies have proven that many marine animals use sounds to communicate with each other, whether it’s ashore or deep underwater. Penguins, for instance, call and chirp to pass information to mates, chicks, and competitors. Pierre Pistorius, a biologist at Nelson Mandela University, stated that some species will squawk out rallying chirps, asking their comrades to help them forage for food when feeding on land. Due to lack of luck with timing and the right equipment, scientists have found it difficult to catalog the birds’ conversations.
|Credits: Mother Nature Network|
But, a team led by Andréa Thiebault, a biologist at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, was able to collect hours of footage recording the sounds penguins have produced underwater. According to Smithsonian Mag, the official journal published by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the researchers outfitted 20 penguins from three different species—king, macaroni and Gentoo—with small cameras and sent them off to swim.
|Credits: Smithsonian Mag|
The researchers recorded more than 200 distinct underwater vocalizations from penguins for the first time. Many sounded like brief, simple chirps, lasting just 0.06 seconds on average. These sounds are far shorter than the sounds penguins emit on land, which are louder, more complex and can run several seconds apiece. Hannah Kriesell, a biologist from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who was not involved in the study, stated that knowing that penguins engage in underwater banter “opens the door for a lot more research.” This could particularly provide scientists with information about the communicative cues penguins rely on to hunt.
The findings, which were published in the journal PeerJ, reported that many of the sounds were emitted right before the penguins snagged a meal of fish. This shows that the sounds serve to stun or disorient their prey. However, the researchers are still not sure what the calls communicate or how crucial they are to the penguins’ hunting success.