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Summer Course in Acoustic Communication

By Mia Phillips

Hi EEES Crew!

this course gets a seal of approvalI just got back from an amazing two-week summer course on animal acoustic communication hosted by the University of Southern Denmark (SDU). This course is offered every other year to PhD students from across the globe. For 10 years now, bioacoustics experts from SDU and elsewhere have come together to provide students with training in both marine and terrestrial animal acoustics research. Before attending, I had heard that the course was known for being good, and I was not disappointed.

The first week of the course took place at the Marine Biological Research Center in Kerteminde, Denmark, and was all about measuring and producing sound underwater. Technical lectures and hands-on practicals were given by professors Magnus Wahlberg (SDU), Coen Elemans (SDU), Lasse Jakobsen (SDU), Jakob Tougaard (Aarhus University), Colleen Reichmuth (UC Santa Cruz), and Mark Johnson (University of St. Andrews). This week we were introduced to the dB sound pressure level scale, the physics of sound propagation in water, theoretical and practical psychophysics, and the basics of underwater sound calibration. Although I work in air, most of the material presented was readily applicable to terrestrial animal systems, and was also just fascinating to learn. Practical exercises included hydrophone calibration, measurement of aquatic sound transmission, prevention of errors in sound recording, and even measurement of captive porpoise echolocation behavior!

Before moving to the next field site, we spent one day at SDU in Odense learning techniques for studying animal sounds and hearing in the lab. We were shown techniques like laser-Doppler vibrometry (LDV), auditory brainstem response measurement, microphone array recording, and analysis of acoustic motifs. We then packed up our things and traveled to Faaborg, where we spent a sunny day-off lounging near the beach.

The second week took place at the Svanninge Bakker field station and was filled with lessons in airborne sound measurement. The primary lecturers were Coen Elemans (SDU), Lasse Jakobsen (SDU), Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard (SDU), Iris Adam (SDU), Ole Larsen (SDU), Sue-Ann Zollinger (Manchester Metropolitain University), and Peter Narins (UCLA). The most important lesson I learned during this week was that calibration is everything. We created and analyzed sounds in Matlab, measured sound attenuation over different surfaces, experimented with LDV, learned about near and far field sounds, and measured reflectance of sound in different sized rooms. All of this requires proper calibration of equipment, or else all your data will be useless (as I learned the hard way).  At the end of the week, we celebrated with a bat observation excursion and a party to conclude the course.

If you’re using or measuring sound in your research, this course is incredibly useful. Other courses that dig deep into the physics of sound and the logistics of measurement are hard to find. This course gave me essential training to perform acoustic playbacks to animals and measure the sounds my animals make. The funds provided by EEES made my participation in this course possible, and I am truly grateful for this wonderful experience.