Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

David A. Mann


Epinephelus, Red grouper, spawning, toadfish, West Florida Shelf


Fish sound production has been associated with courtship and spawning behavior. Acoustic recordings of fish sounds can be used to identify distribution and behavior. Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) can record large amounts of acoustic data in a specific area for days to years. These data can be collected in remote locations under potentially unsafe seas throughout a 24-hour period providing datasets unattainable using observer-based methods. However, the instruments must withstand the caustic ocean environment and be retrieved to obtain the recorded data. This can prove difficult due to the risk of PAMs being lost, stolen or damaged, especially in highly active areas. In addition, point-source sound recordings are only one aspect of fish biogeography. Passive acoustic platforms that produce low self-generated noise, have high retrieval rates, and are equipped with a suite of environmental sensors are needed to relate patterns in fish sound production to concurrently collected oceanographic conditions on large, synoptic scales. The association of sound with reproduction further invokes the need for such non-invasive, near-real time datasets that can be used to enhance current management methods limited by survey bias, inaccurate fisher reports, and extensive delays between fisheries data collection and population assessment.

Red grouper (Epinephelus morio) exhibit the distinctive behavior of digging holes and producing a unique sound during courtship. These behaviors can be used to identify red grouper distribution and potential spawning habitat over large spatial scales. The goal of this research was to provide a greater understanding of the temporal and spatial distribution of red grouper sound production and holes on the central West Florida Shelf (WFS) using active sonar and passive acoustic recorders. The technology demonstrated here establishes the necessary methods to map shelf-scale fish sound production. The results of this work could aid resource managers in determining critical spawning times and areas.

Over 403,000 acoustic recordings were made across an approximately 39,000 km2 area on the WFS during periods throughout 2008 to 2011 using stationary passive acoustic recorders and hydrophone-integrated gliders. A custom MySQL database with a portal to MATLAB was developed to catalogue and process the large acoustic dataset stored on a server. Analyses of these data determined the daily, seasonal and spatial patterns of red grouper as well as toadfish and several unconfirmed fish species termed: 100 Hz Pulsing, 6 kHz Sound, 300 Hz FM Harmonic, and 365 Hz Harmonic.

Red grouper sound production was correlated to sunrise and sunset, and was primarily recorded in water 15 to 93 m deep, with increased calling within known hard bottom areas and in Steamboat Lumps Marine Reserve. Analyses of high-resolution multibeam bathymetry collected in a portion of the reserve in 2006 and 2009 allowed detailed documentation and characterization of holes excavated by red grouper. Comparisons of the spatially overlapping datasets suggested holes are constructed and maintained over time, and provided evidence towards an increase in spawning habitat usage. High rates of sound production recorded from stationary recorders and a glider deployment were correlated to high hole density in Steamboat Lumps. This research demonstrates the utility of coupling passive acoustic data with high-resolution bathymetric data to verify the occupation of suspected male territory (holes) and to provide a more complete understanding of effective spawning habitat. Annual peaks in calling (July and August, and November and December) did not correspond to spawning peaks (March - May); however, passive acoustic monitoring was established as an effective tool to identify areas of potential spawning activity by recording the presence of red grouper.

Sounds produced by other species of fish were recorded in the passive acoustic dataset. The distribution of toadfish calls suggests two species (Opsanus beta and O. pardus) were recorded; the latter had not been previously described. The call characteristics and spatial distribution of the four unknown fish-related sounds can be used to help confirm the sources. Long-term PAM studies that provide systematic monitoring can be a valuable assessment tool for all soniferous species. Glider technology, due to a high rate of successful retrieval and low self-generated noise, was proven to be a reliable and relatively inexpensive method to collect fisheries acoustic data in the field. The implementation of regular deployments of hydrophone-integrated gliders and fixed location passive acoustic monitoring stations is suggested to enhance fisheries management.