Pattern Radio: Whale Songs is a website that lets anyone use AI to explore thousands of hours of NOAA’s underwater ocean recordings. It’s a new kind of tool that visualizes audio at a vast scale and uses AI to make it easy to explore and make discoveries.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research oceanographer Dr. Ann Allen has worked with a team at Google to develop machine learning technology that recognizes humpback whale song. The collaboration has created an efficient alternative to her team manually scanning more than 170,000 hours of recordings from around the Pacific islands, a process that would take more than 19 years “if you were to sit and listen to all of that audio straight through.”
The Pattern Radio project has also opened more than 8,000 hours of that data up to the public for audio exploration. Discover humpback whale song, passing ships, and yet-to-be-identified underwater sounds. From Alexander Chen at Google:
In the middle of the site, you’ll see the sounds from NOAA’s underwater recordings shown as a spectrogram, a tool that helps you explore sound visually. Beneath the spectrogram is a heat map, which uses AI to help you navigate the data.
A spectrogram is a picture of sound. It shows the frequencies that make up the sound, from low to high, and how they change over time, from left to right. So, when a humpback whale is, for example, making sounds that rise upward in pitch, you’ll see those as upward shapes.
Listening to the ocean is one important way scientists can monitor hard-to-study animals, like whales. Whales and dolphins spend the majority of their life underwater and use sound as their primary means of communication, relying on acoustics for survival. This makes acoustic monitoring an ideal way to study them. For whales that make complex sounds, like the humpback, a greater understanding of when, where, why, and how they sing will help us learn more about their population, migration patterns, location, habits, health and more. All of this information is important to helping scientists make decisions about how to best protect the species.
Related listening at NPR: It Took A Musician’s Ear To Decode The Complex Song In Whale Calls.
Watch this next: Mapping whale songs in the South Pacific.