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Tracking terrestrial animals

November 30, 2016

Washington, D. C. November 30, 2016 -- What does the detection of enemy planes during WWI have to do with locating endangered Mojave Ground Squirrels? They both benefit from a technique called acoustic beamforming which uses multiple devices to find the point of intersection and pinpoint location. A multi-institutional team of researchers led by Dean Hawthorne at Cornell University and William Horn from Coherent Technical Services, Inc. is working to develop a system using this WWI-era technology to detect and locate endangered Mojave Ground Squirrels on Edwards Air Force Base in California. They aim to assess populations and any impact the base's activities may be having on the population.

"While acoustic beamforming is not new, the novelty comes in the development," Hawthorne explained. "The hardware is unobtrusive enough that the animals will barely know it's there and we get to observe in detail the behavior of animals in the wild, essentially unperturbed by humans; that's exciting."

During the 172nd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the 5th Joint Meeting with Acoustical Society of Japan, being held Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 2016, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawthorne will describe how the ultimate goal of this work is conservation through observation and acoustics is a tool to enable the kind of tracking necessary, particularly in harsh environments that could be dangerous to humans as well as disruptive to the observed animal populations.

"This technology can be used to detect almost anything that makes a recognizable sound, including animals and machines like aircraft," Hawthorne said. "The system is rugged, so it can be deployed in harsh environments, places where a human being might be in danger."

Acoustic beamforming requires an array of microphones; in this case, the team used 16. A challenge for the team was getting the electronics correct for 16 channels, but one that they overcame with persistence and patience.

After initial testing on the East Coast, the system will be deployed at Edwards to help biologists make informed decisions about how to conserve the Mojave Ground Squirrel. But Hawthorne thinks that is only the beginning.

"We think the system can have a big impact on the field of conservation," he said. "All you need to know is what the animal sounds like, and you can detect and locate those animals over an area the size of a football field."

"Biologists need information about populations in order to make good decisions about how best to conserve our natural biodiversity," Hawthorne added, "and this system could be a useful tool in that fight."

Presentation 3pABb9, "A system for acoustic detection, classification and localization of terrestrial animals in remote locations," by Dean L. Hawthorne is at 5:00 p.m. HAST, Nov. 30, 2016 in Room Coral 2.


The 172nd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America
The meeting is being held Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii


Main meeting website:

Technical program:

Meeting/Hotel site:

Press Room:


In the coming weeks, ASA's World Wide Press Room will be updated with additional tips on dozens of newsworthy stories and with lay-language papers, which are 300-1200 word summaries of presentations written by scientists for a general audience and accompanied by photos, audio, and video. You can visit the site during the meeting at


We will grant free registration to credentialed journalists and professional freelance journalists. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, contact Emilie Lorditch (, 301-209-3029) who can also help with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips, or background information.


A press briefing featuring the acoustics of snapping shrimp and coconut beetles plus, how speech sounds influence female vocal attractiveness will be webcast live from the conference on Wednesday, Nov. 30th from 10 - 11 a.m. HAST in room Iolani I.


The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world's leading journal on acoustics), Acoustics Today magazine, books, and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. For more information about ASA, visit our website at

Acoustical Society of America

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