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Bioacoustics class records the sounds of Hawaiian species

Lucas Fink ’26 spent two days searching for a UFO (“unidentified falsetto orthopteran”) amidst the tree ferns and giant ‘ōhi‘a lehua trees of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.

Students in the Cornell Conservation Bioacoustics Field Course traveled to Hawaiʻi Island in January 2024 to record the sounds of some of the many species that inhabit the forests, coastal pools, and nearshore waters.

Imagine sitting in a shallow tidepool for hours trying to isolate the chewing sounds of tiny Native Hawaiian shrimp (ʻōpaeʻula). Or navigating through lava fields and dense primary forest to deploy recorders that capture the sounds of Native honeycreepers (ʻamakihi) flitting among the branches overhead. What these students saw and heard is not only delightful, but also incredibly valuable in the effort to understand these species and, ultimately, protect them from disease, habitat encroachment, and extinction.

The students recorded the birds in neighboring kīpuka, or forest fragments of different ages surrounded by lava. What they discovered is that the birds in different kīpuka had different dialects.

“Remarkably, they found that the same species sang different songs (memes) in forest fragments just a few hundred meters apart,” notes Ben Gottesman, a faculty member of Cornell's K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics who accompanied the students.

See highlights from their trip, including a whale singing, a bat whistling, and an eel gulping!