Why the US Department of Defense is listening closely to the sounds of shrimp

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Several whale skeletons stand guard off the coast of Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands. They are a stark reminder of the damaging effects of military sonar.

Sonar – a technique that uses underwater sound propagation primarily for navigation, communication or object detection – from ships and submarines is believed to be one of the contributing factors to the whale strandingsconfusing their own sonar and causing them to run aground on the shore.

However, this whale-unfriendly technology may soon have a rival. Lori Adornato, project manager for the US military research agency DARPA, believes we could detect submarines by paying more attention to the natural sound than emitting sonar pulses.

“Right now we treat all this natural sound as background noise, or interference, which we try to remove,” says Adornato. “Why don’t we take advantage of these sounds, see if we can find a signal?”