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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Aquatic Doo-Wop: Are San Francisco Fish Singing in Harmony?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge Are you ready to rock?
  • Are you ready to rock?
Professor Roger Bland can't be bothered to study just any singing fish. But a singing fish chorus? Now you're talking. The San Francisco State University professor of physics has been compiling MP3 clips of toadfish songs -- not via illegal fish downloads from the Internet but from undersea recordings gleaned from the depths of San Francisco Bay.

The toadfish vibrate the muscles of their swim bladder, creating a foghorn-like sound that alerts females to their nests on the Bay's floor (think of this as the "wanna go back to my place?" plea from the gill-breathing set). But that's not what interests Bland. He contends that large groups of toadfish -- are harmonizing.

"The toadfish seem

to be collaborating in their calling," Bland said. "Individuals

near each other seem to adjust their frequency, or pitch, to an approximate

common value. Like a choir improvising, the group's pitch swings substantially

over several hours with the individual fish following the swings, indicating

that they are listening to each other and responding."

"Toadfish," incidentally, would make a great name for a band.

Using what an SFSU periodical describes as "complex physics equations" -- as if the field of physics is replete with simple equations --  Bland plans on analyzing the toadfish songs, and studying why communities of the fish sing at different pitches than those a few blocks over. 

Listen to the song of the toadfish here.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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