Cover image for Secrets of sound : studying the calls and songs of whales, elephants, and birds
Secrets of sound : studying the calls and songs of whales, elephants, and birds
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c2002.
Physical Description:
63 p. : illustrations (some color), map.
Examines the work of several bioacousticians, scientists who study the sounds made by living creatures, discussing the results and importance of their research.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 599.159 SAY 1 1

On Order



Can whales communicate across miles of vast ocean? Can elephants talk to one another with sounds we cannot hear? These are the kinds of questions that drive the work of acoustic biologists.Follow three creative scientists-Christopher W., Clark, Katy Payne, and Bill Evans-as they research why and how animals communicate.Through remarkable photographs and stories about all sorts of animals, this book celebrates the challenges of lab work and fieldwork and the thrill of discovery.

Author Notes

April Pulley Sayre has an enduring interest in animal communication. During her nationwide school visits, she's led thousands of kids in frog and owl calls, two of the many animal sounds that keep creeping into her books. She is the award-winning author of more than forty books for young people

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-9-Sayre's fascinating investigation into the field of bioacoustics and three researchers in the field is a sturdy companion to such gems as Donna M. Jackson's The Wildlife Detectives (2000) and Stephen Kramer's Hidden Worlds (2001, both Houghton). The lucid text focuses on the work of Christopher Clark (whale "listener"), Katy Payne (elephant-sound expert), and Bill Evans (birdcall decoder). The author includes biographical material-Evans was "into" the history of electricity, Payne was a college music major, and Clark planned to be a biomedical engineer-to demonstrate how early interests can generate and be deftly applied to future careers. Chockablock with clear color photos and liberally sprinkled with direct quotes that lend immediacy to the text, the whole is rounded out by a thoughtful look at the future of bioacoustics and a call for personal involvement in conservation. A winner in every way.-Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

(Intermediate) The focus of this Scientists in the Field volume is scientists who study animal communication-whale songs, elephant rumbles, and nocturnal bird calls. Bioacoustics, the field encompassing their work, is a meld of biology, technology, music, and physics. The scientists use equipment sensitive to sounds that humans generally don't hear. Christopher Clark uses underwater microphones to record whale songs, and he has seen his technical capabilities expand with post-Cold War access to Navy deep-ocean recording devices. Katy Payne's familiarity with the vibrations of organ music led to her discovery of the infrasound rumbles that elephants use to communicate over long distances. Bill Evans records birds at night to learn more about their migration patterns. Each of the profiles is filled with absorbing scientific information while also providing insights into the personalities involved in this work-adventurers who work in interesting field locales, sometimes with limited funding, to do what they love. Striking color photographs show the animals, the technology, and the scientists at work. A final chapter gives brief examples of the work of other bioacousticians and discusses what it takes to be one of these people. Excellent resources listed at the back tell readers how to get involved with some of the research projects mentioned in the book. A bibliography, glossary, and index are appended. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

The Scientists in the Field series continues to fulfill its promise, as Sayre (Noodle Man, p. 265, etc.) takes science out of the lab by profiling several researchers on the cutting edge of "acoustic biology." Having arrived at their outdoorsy areas of inquiry along various routes-Katy Payne, for instance, moved from studying whale song to the surprisingly complex subsonic communications of elephants, and Bill Evans admits that his ingenious efforts to track birds that migrate at night through their calls "was a hobby that got out of control"-these men and women are not only exploring uncharted scientific frontiers, but obviously having a wonderful time doing it. Children will respond to their enthusiasm, as well as the environmental concerns that lie behind their research projects-not to mention the eye-opening insight that important discoveries may require traveling to exotic wild places, but might also be waiting no further away than one's back yard. Big, color photos of the scientists, their tools and the creatures they study reflect this multifaceted appeal; lists of recommended reading (and listening, of course) and Web sites will give interested readers a deeper understanding of what has been, and has yet to be, learned about animal communication. (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-7. This fascinating title shows the thrill of scientific discovery up close. Sayre profiles three bioacousticians--scientists who study the sounds made by living things, communication that is often outside the range of human hearing. Each extensive chapter follows the scientist into the field: the ocean, where Christopher Clark studies whales; the rain forest of the Central African Republic, where Katy Payne studies elephants; and throughout the U.S., where Bill Evans studies birds in migration. Sayre's text explains scientific concepts in simple, engaging language, and she gives plenty of detail about work conditions, equipment and research techniques, and what it takes to enter the field. Sayre also shows how the scientists' work contributes not only to a better understanding of the animals but also to conservation and protection of the species. Lots of well-edited quotes from the scientists convey their contagious enthusiasm for what they do, and sharp color photos, sound charts, and activity boxes break up the text, making it even more readable. Like Ellen Jackson's Looking for Life in the Universe, reviewed on p.684, this book is part of the consistently excellent Scientists in the Field series; it provides readers with an inspiring introduction to a little-discussed field and to biology in general. --Gillian Engberg

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 7
Wondering About Whales: Christopher Clarkp. 11
Something in the Elephants' Silence: Katy Paynep. 24
Sounds in the Night Sky: Bill Evansp. 36
New Technologies, New Voices: The Future of Bioacousticsp. 49
Suggestions for Further Reading and Listeningp. 60
How You Can Get Involved in Research and Conservationp. 61
Glossaryp. 62
Indexp. 63