This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I'm Ashleigh Papp.
OK — listen to this:
If you had to guess, what would you say made those sounds?
Did you guess that they were from a blubbery, 10-foot long sea cow, otherwise known as a manatee?
If you didn't get it, don't be too hard on yourself.
That's what manatees sound like when they're communicating in the warm, shallow waters around Florida.
And researchers are starting to learn how to decode this crazy high-pitched chatter.
We know that manatees produce vocalizations via the vocal folds in their throat, similar to how humans and other mammals produce noise.
They use their voices for talking to each other–and probably not for echolocating, like dolphins do.
And while previous research has documented the noises, new work looked into connecting how manatee chatter in the wild is related to behavior in different social settings.
Beth Brady, a marine mammalogist at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Florida ran the new research.
She says that manatees use vocalizations to convey all sorts of things--kind of like the way a house pet lets you know that they're not into that new brand of food, or they're really happy to see you at the end of a long day.
If you have a dog or a cat, you can tell by the way your cat meows, or your dog barks, whether or not it wants to go outside, whether it wants to play, but they're still using that bark, or just that meow.
And Manatees are the same way and they change the pitch of the sound and the structure of the sound just a little bit to convey different meanings.
Manatees are solitary marine herbivores.
They spend a lot of time grazing in shallow waters.
Hence, their affectionate nickname, the "sea cow".
According to Brady, manatees are generally shy, gentle creatures that can be difficult to approach in the wild and therefore, tough to really study.
All in all, Brady and her team spent about seven years recording manatee vocalizations.
They would drop a hydrophone off the side of a kayak while they paddled through fields of seagrass or cruised near freshwater river mouths.
And they would also jot down notes about what the manatees were doing while they were making noise.
The team analyzed each of the recordings using computer software built for bioacoustic research and conservation work.
They dissected the soundwaves of each vocalization and looked at things like how long the call lasted and each sound’s frequencies.