Sudbury·Audio

Burbot fish sing during spawning, northern biologist says

Peter Cott wanted to know the impact of sound on fish in northern lakes — but what he found during that research is that one variety is actually making sound.
Pete Cott discovered that burbot fish, like the one seen here, "sing." (Supplied)

Peter Cott wanted to know the impact of sound on fish in northern lakes — but what he found during his research is that one species is actually making sound.   

Cott is now a biologist in Yellowknife, NT, but he did his doctoral thesis at Laurentian University in Sudbury.  He was working with a colleague who suggested that burbot fish might "sing"

"He said that because burbot are a cod, there's lot of different cod fish that actually vocalize as a part of their reproduction." 

"So then that got me thinking about checking to see if burbot make sounds."

Cott said burbot do have the necessary "equipment" to make noise.    

"What they have are these muscles that are attached to their swim bladder, and these muscles in other cod — for example, Atlantic cod and haddock — they contract really quickly, and can make a sound that way." 

Cott said to test the idea, a team submerged a "really big net" under the ice on Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife and recorded the sound during what they though was probably burbot spawning season. 

He characterizes the sound they make to attract other fish in the darkness underwater as a revving motorcycle, or the "drumming sound that ruffed grouse do."

A biologist from Yellowknife recorded sounds made by a the ling fish, also known as burbot. Have a listen to the song of the burbot fish. 0:29
 

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From a practical standpoint, Cott said it's important to know how fish use sound in order to mitigate the impact of competing sounds from nearby machines.

Cott recently had a paper published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research on his findings, called the "Song of the Burbot."

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