Skip Links

ATTENTION POLICYHOLDERS IN THE FORECASTED CONE OF IAN: Hurricane Preparation Coverage is in effect. Make preparations now to get your boat out of harms way. Learn More Learn More

Hey Anglers! The Fish Are 'Talking' About You

Sound communication is often overlooked within fishes, but fishes have voices, too.

Attention all fish illustration

Photo: Getty Images/RomoloTavani

We're well aware of how much chatter takes place between boaters, but thanks to a new Cornell study published over the winter in the journal Icthyology and Herpetology, we now know there's also a lot of tongue-wagging taking place beneath the waves, too. Sort of. Let us explain.

While oral jaw movements were found to be used by some fishes to communicate, more common was swim bladder vibration (often called "grunting") and skeletal stridulation (rubbing bones or body parts together to make a noise). What's so shocking in the study, however, is just how many fishes use "sonic behavior" to communicate. In fact, the researchers found that 99 different families of fish exhibit "sonic-related morphological characteristics," and 18 families, mostly comprised of catfish, exhibit both swim bladder vibration and stridulation abilities.

"Sound communication is often overlooked within fishes, yet they make up more than half of all living vertebrate species," says study co-author Andrew Bass, in Cornell Chronicle. "They've probably been overlooked because fishes are not easily heard or seen, and the science of underwater acoustic communication has primarily focused on whales and dolphins. But fishes have voices, too."

Just what are those ichthyoids attempting to articulate? According to lead author Aaron Rice, it mostly boils down to attracting a mate, defending food or territory, or letting other fish know where they are. That's not a shocker as these are the same hot topics most animals, humans included, seem to communicate about most often. We do have to wonder, however, if at least a few of those fish have figured out how to say, "Don't eat that worm!"

Related Articles


Click to explore related articles

lifestyle fishing


Lenny Rudow

New Boats, Fishing & Electronics Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Top tech writer and accomplished sports fisherman, BoatUS Magazine Contributing Editor Lenny Rudow has written seven practical boating books, won 30 awards from Boating Writers International — many for his marine electronics articles – and two for excellence from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He judges the NMMA Innovation Awards, and is Angler in Chief at FishTalk, his own Chesapeake-based publication. A great teacher and inspirational writer, Lenny hosts many of BoatUS Magazine’s very-popular how-to videos, which can be found on the BoatUS YouTube channel, or at