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Now online: The world's largest archive of natural sounds

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  February 14, 2013 11:34 AM

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Thumbnail image for Loon.jpeg
Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology began archiving sounds from the natural world back in 1929, when the lab's founder, Arthur Allen, took down a short, four-second recording of a song sparrow. Since that time the lab has collected nearly 150,000 more recordings, and as of January you can search and listen to them all online.

The digitization project took 12 years to complete and all told it contains recordings of about 9,000 species totaling 7,513 hours of sounds. In a post on Cornell’s Tumblr announcing the completion of the effort, staff from the MacAulay Library (which houses the archive) highlighted a handful of particularly superlative recordings. These include:

  • The “staccato hammering” of a walrus underwater, recorded off the coast of British Columbia.

  • The eager squeak of a not-quite-newborn ostrich as it tries to break through its shell, recorded at Cornell in 1966.
  • The extraterrestrial hoot of a Curl-crested Manucode, recorded in Papua New Guinea in 2011.
But the one I find myself listening to on loop is the mournful, end of days call of a loon, recorded on Mason Lake in the Adirondacks in 1992.

Image of Pacific Loon courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

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Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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