Principal Investigator: Nick Farmer (Southeast Regional Office)
Co-Principal Investigator: Brad Erisman (University of Texas at Austin, Marine Science Institute)
External Collaborator:

Project title

Combining passive- and active-acoustic sampling to assess the importance of offshore oil platforms as spawning sites for commercially important and protected groupers in the Gulf of Mexico


Groupers (family: Epinephelidae) are an economically important species, and Goliath Grouper ( Epinephelus itajara) have historically been overexploited and their harvest in the Gulf of Mexico is prohibited. There is currently little information about grouper spawning aggregations, which is important for better understanding the sustainability of grouper stocks. Groupers produce sounds to attract mates and coordinate spawning, allowing the use of long-term passive acoustic recorders to research grouper spawning. Existing platforms from oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico actually mimic spawning and feeding habitats of groupers, and use of passive acoustics can provide information about the importance of these platforms for grouper spawning.

Goliath grouper

Research Objectives

The overall goal of this study is to use passive acoustics (fixed-position, continuously recording hydrophones) in conjunction with a suite of other data collection methods (active acoustic surveys, behavioral sampling via diver and ROV surveys) to assess the importance of offshore oil platforms as spawning sites for Goliath Grouper and other groupers of commercial, recreational, or conservation importance in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Our specific objectives are to: (1) monitor the incidence and timing of sound production to identify and characterize spawning activity of groupers at 8 offshore oil platforms; (2) verify the source and context of sound production through diver surveys utilizing hand-held hydrophones or an ROV equipped with a hydrophone to record sounds associated with specific behaviors and species; (3) monitor and analyze soundscape at each platform to identify interactions between anthropogenic noise (e.g. platform or boat noise) and grouper sound production and draw general conclusions on the potential effects of noise on the behavior and spawning activity of groupers at oil platforms.

Goliath grouper 2


The results of this study are remarkable and novel in that it represents the first focused effort to understand the degree to which Goliath and other groupers of high priority to fisheries management in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico use offshore oil platforms as spawning habitats and how underwater noise may interact with and impact sound production and spawning in groupers.In relation to the intended application of funds provided by the NOAA Fisheries Ocean Acoustics Program, the proposed study should expand our understanding of (in order of decreasing emphasis):

  1. How animals utilize underwater sound for communication and spawning purposes.
  2. The biology of economically important and endangered fishes through the use of acoustic techniques.
  3. Soundscapes at oil platform environments and their natural and anthropogenic components, including characterizing levels and trends in noise associated with spawning fish.
  4. The potential effects of anthropogenic noise on the behavior and communication of spawning fishes.