When it comes to being attracted to others, we will all agree that a sexy accent can seal the deal. As it happens, this is also the case for cod, whose differing accents are causing scientists to worry for the fish’s mating prospects.
Increasing sea temperatures due to climate change are driving Cornish cod to migrate northwards. There is growing concern in the scientific community that they will have trouble understanding the accent or dialect of their more northern, Scouse equivalents. This could potentially impact their ability to integrate and breed.
Male cod use their swim bladders to make thumping and growling sounds in order to attract females. Lead researcher, Professor Steve Simpson from the University of Exeter, said that cod have the ability to change the pattern and frequency of their vocalisations when communicating.
According to experts, the fish may have regional accents. Where separate populations have spawned in certain locations around Britain, over thousands of years, distinct accents or dialects could have evolved, experts believe. “Recordings of American cod are very different to those from their European cousins, so there is a precedent,” said Professor Simpson. If a male cod fails to ‘woo’ a female who uses a different accent, its chances of breeding will be limited.
Scientists fear that when cod come into contact with populations of differing dialects, they may have trouble sharing territory and raising the alarm of threats. It is feared that the growing noise pollution from boats is further impacting cod communication. “We may find that the ‘gossip’ essential to their society is being drowned out,” said Professor Simpson. However, he suggested that noise pollution could be more easily addressed than the climatic change causing the fish to shift their range northwards. Ships could avoid cod spawning grounds at important times, and new research vessels are being designed to be quieter.
Professor Simpson has been studying fish dialects and soundscapes for 15 years. “Listening to fish is a really good way of surveying what is there, and what their behaviour is,” he states. “If we value our fish stocks – or our Friday night fish supper – we need to understand this.”
So to all the northerners finding themselves lost in UEA’s sea of southern squabble -— the Cornish cod feel your pain.