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In the pilot house, Roger Payne listens for sperm whales using the acoustic array, an underwater microphone towed behind the Odyssey.
Photo: Chris Johnson

December 1, 2000
The Sounds of Night
  Real Audio
  28k - 56k

Log Transcript

The most unique thing about the night watch is not the sights, but the sounds. We listen for whales around the clock and are way way out here, far from everything, dragging an underwater microphone (more properly called a hydrophone) around behind us through the sea, something that very few other boats ever do. We do so because one is much more likely to hear a sperm whale than to see it. This makes it a unique experience to sit in the wheelhouse at night where the sounds being picked up by our hydrophones get broadcast day in and day out and, by that means to get to hear what the ocean has on offer today. Not surprisingly the number of sounds we hear at night far exceed what we hear in daylight, many, presumably are being made by those that make them as aids to navigation and keeping together.

To enable the person on watch to see ahead in the wheel house at night, the lights are kept dim or off, which adds a mysterious air to the place. Amidst such reveries and while surrounded by the bright and visible cosmos, one is sometimes suddenly brought stark staring alert by strange wild noises from the sea: cackles and honks and squeaks and whistles and clicks and sounds like hammer blows. It is a group of dolphins or of small whales, though of what species we're unsure. I'll play a few for you as they occurred four nights ago at around midnight while we were still approaching Hull Island in the Phoenix group. I am confident that there are several people out there who can tell me what they are. If you're one of them, will you please educate us and we will pass the word along to everyone else.

This is Roger Payne on yet another starry night aboard Odyssey.

Log by Roger Payne

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