Skip to main content

Natural Ambient Sounds as Sources of Biologically Relevant Information and Noise for Fishes

  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online:
The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life


In the field of fish bioacoustics, sounds other than conspecific communication sounds have generally been viewed as background noise interfering with the detection of communication signals. However, many fish species do not vocalize but still possess acute hearing, suggesting that fish hearing may have evolved, in part, to detect and extract information from the “ambient sounds” present in the environment. This chapter highlights some of the major sources of natural ambient sound and discusses how they function as sources of biologically relevant information. Some fishes can extract information about larval settlement sites, spawning events, food sources, and approaching predators from natural ambient sound. Instances where natural ambient sounds function as noise are also discussed. Ambient sound can mask hearing and some vocalizing fishes have been known to either produce louder vocalizations or change vocalization rates to cope with increases in ambient sound levels. Several species living in shallow water habitats vocalize at frequencies that coincide with a dip in acoustic energy in the local ambient sound spectrum. Data on the behavioral and physiological responses of fishes to natural ambient sounds remains scarce. Such information could be important for understanding how anthropogenic sounds affect the survival and reproduction of fishes.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions


Download references


We thank the organizers of the International Conference on the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life, Berlin, 2022 for providing funding to Sujay Balebail to present this review at the conference. We thank the editor Dr. Arthur Popper for his constructive feedback on the initial version and subsequent revisions of this review, which considerably improved the quality of the final version. We also thank Dr. Ian Jones for an insightful discussion on how the frequency content of sound pressure and particle motion can be different. This review is dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Richard R. Fay whose thoughts on how fishes may use ambient sounds as “acoustic daylight” inspired us to write this review.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sujay Balebail .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Section Editor information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2023 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Balebail, S., Sisneros, J.A. (2023). Natural Ambient Sounds as Sources of Biologically Relevant Information and Noise for Fishes. In: Popper, A.N., Sisneros, J., Hawkins, A.D., Thomsen, F. (eds) The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life . Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-031-10417-6

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-031-10417-6

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Biomedicine and Life SciencesReference Module Biomedical and Life Sciences

Publish with us

Policies and ethics