If you’re a fan of music festivals, you’ll understand the inimitable pleasure that comes with standing front and center as one of your favorite bands makes your ears vibrate. Unfortunately, a new study published in the Journal Environmental Pollution has found that not all living things are so keen on the noisy affair. Researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science found that Florida's Ultra Music Festival causes local toadfish significant distress. What a bunch of buzzkills.
The study looked at toadfish in Virginia Key, Florida, where the Ultra Music Festival was held in 2019. Blood analysis of the animals showed that the toadfish experienced a 4-5 fold increase in cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, on the first night that the festival began compared to two samples taken before the music arrived.
To understand what this might be in response to, they placed recording devices both above and below water in the toadfishes’ habitat as well as in tanks containing toadfish near the stages.
"Recordings revealed that the sound intensity increased by 7-9 decibels in the toadfish tanks and 2-3 decibels in the nearby waters of Bear Cut in the low-frequency range where fish are the most sensitive to changes in sound pressure," said co-investigator Claire Paris, professor of ocean sciences at the UM Rosenstiel School, in a statement. "Variations in the sonic activity of marine organisms and additional noise from boat traffic may have contributed to the signal detected in Bear Cut during Ultra. In situ measurements, including long term acoustic recording, are necessary to evaluate the effect of Ultra on wild fish populations."
Noise pollution in aquatic environments is known to cause stress as well as various physiological and behavioral disruptions including communication, hearing, spawning behavior, and reproduction. Hearing is an important sense for many animals, but toadfish share a unique relationship with bottlenose dolphins (who just love to chow down on a toadfish) in relying on hearing their social calls to avoid getting eaten. Evidently some people can sympathize with the toadfishes' plight.
The researchers state that the study couldn’t determine if the elevated cortisol caused by music could interrupt this means of escape, but that it poses a potential threat to the survival of the fish if, distracted by Ultra Music Festival, they inadvertently end up on the menu. They note that, as a species that plays a significant ecological role, adequate protection for toadfish is an important consideration with regards to hosting events that cause such a racket. After all, getting eaten by a bottlenose dolphin is just so not Ultra Music Festival vibes.