Hawaiʻi's 'Choral' Reef

Attendees of this fall's Waikiki Aquarium Distinguished Lecture series, held at Tenney Theatre on October 17, got to learn a new language — fish. Dr. Tim Tricas, professor of biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, immersed the audience in the sounds of coral reefs — or choral reefs as Tricas calls it — that he has collected through years of diving off Hawaiʻi's shores. Using a rebreather diving apparatus and EARs (Environmental Acoustic Recorders), Tricas has been able to record the variety of sounds fish produce through their teeth, bones, muscles and tendons that are usually inaudible to humans. The fish make sounds to communicate danger, as well as their feeding and mating behaviors, with other fish. By studying the occurrence and frequency of fish sounds, Tricas hopes that his research can help monitor the health of coral reefs worldwide as climate change affects ocean temperatures — more sounds equals healthier reefs.

Students enjoyed questioning Tricas about his findings. The Priory senior, Alex Wong, remarked, "I felt that starting a database of fish sounds in Hawaiʻi is a revolution — using this information is just a start to further research and understand our fish better and how our coral reefs are doing. I feel this issue doesn't get as much of a spotlight as it should."

In her opening remarks, Dr. Ruth R. Fletcher, Head of School attributes the increased awareness about the health of our coral reefs in our school community to the Waikīkī Lecture Series as it has carved a path to "get new science to the classroom faster."

Tricas Bio:

Dr. Tricas is a professor of Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where he studies the behavior and sensory biology of sharks, rays, and coral reef fish. Along with his students, Dr. Tricas has developed a library of reef fish sounds that are currently used to interpret long-term acoustic recordings from wild fish populations. Their field studies are complemented by anatomy and physiology experiments in the lab to determine how the fish brain processes natural sounds used for communication. He has published over 70 scientific articles, chapters and books on fish sensory systems and behaviors, and teaches several courses on animal behavior.