Researchers are studying the underwater sounds of Gold Coast’s Wonder Reef and sharing their findings for all to hear.  

In an Australian-first trial, a live-stream hydrophone – an underwater microphone – accessible to the public will allow everyone to explore the sound of the Wonder Reef and Gold Coast bay from their smart phone or desktop.  

The orange hydrophone unit is affixed to the Wonder Reef buoys.

In addition, a permanent hydrophone deployed at Wonder Reef for the past two years has been capturing whale and dolphin sounds. 

During these past two whale migration seasons, humpback whale vocals have been captured and provided new insights into the social behaviour of these charismatic animals. 

Using an Aural M2 set of hydrophones, Dr Olaf Meynecke from Griffith University’s Coastal and Marine Research Centre and Manager of the Whales and Climate Program and his team have captured over 14,000 files that span several months of sound.  

The hydrophone is attached to the bottom of the reef at 27m depth, where it can capture sound from the reef itself but also from further away (several kilometres depending on sea conditions). 

Dr Olaf Meynecke.

The range of sound frequencies or waves captured is from 10 hz to 16 000 hz covering whale vocals and some dolphin clicks, grunting fish, clicking shrimps, moving chains and different types of boat traffic. 

A specially designed live streaming hydrophone much smaller than its bigger cousin, the Aural M2, is sending acoustic waves from the reef for everyone to tune in to.  

New research projects expected to arise from this initiative will explore various aspects of marine mammals (dolphins hunting, whales singing, rays and fish taking residence), and it is hoped it will initiate future research projects when funding becomes available.  

Dr Olaf Meynecke said: “For the first time in Australia, we are able to live-stream sound from a new reef system and we have also been able to deploy hydrophones recording whale songs for the past two years. In partnership with the City of Gold Coast and support from Gold Coast Dive Adventures and Sea World Foundation, we can now provide education, monitoring and attraction for divers to Wonder Reef capturing the acoustic landscape of this unique feature on our Gold Coast.” 

Dr Meynecke deploying the hydrophone.

Tom Tate, Mayor City of Gold Coast (GCCC): “We know that Wonder Reef attracts hundreds of species of fish and other marine life every day. To help facilitate ongoing scientific research to improve the understanding on humpback whales and their migration patterns and behaviours is just another benefit of this world class dive attraction.” 

Dr Leah Barclay (University of Sunshine Coast): “This interdisciplinary research underscores the capacity of hydrophones to engage audiences and transform our relationship with marine environments. By harnessing the connections between art, science and technology, we can inspire communities to listen and engage with the ocean in new ways.”   

Sebastian Lovera and Harry Cottrel, owner Gold Coast Dive Adventures who has assisted with the deployments and retrieval: “From May to October, it is joy of Gold Coast winter scuba diving to have humpback whale song as a soundtrack to all our dives. This season was no exception. That is one reason we relish the opportunity to assist in the retrieval and deployment of hydrophones at Gold Coast Wonder Reef.” 

Sea World Foundation’s Wayne Phillips said it “is wonderful to be involved in research activities that provides further knowledge and understanding of the species which captivates our city throughout their migration period. It is also a fantastic initiative to showcase the science to wider audiences through the live-stream and provide the public with an incredible insight into what the whales get up to below the surface.” 

Wonder Reef Sounds is an initiative by the Whales and Climate Program at Griffith University in partnership with Sunshine Coast University supported by the City of Gold Coast. The deployments and retrieval of hydrophones were supported by Gold Coast Dive Adventures and Sea World Foundation. 

Listen live and free now here.