Go Adventuring With This Underwater Microphone

Shah Selbe

Hi! I’m Shah Selbe. I’m a former Spacecraft Propulsion Engineer, an Ocean Conservation Technologist, a Leader at Engineers Without Borders and a National Geographic Fellow (more on that in a second). In everything I do, I try to figure out how engineering can make this planet (and who knows, maybe other planets one day!) a better place, for people and animals through environmental monitoring.

KitHub and I have assembled an underwater microphone kit (based on a design by COSEE Tek) that will let you help me to protect the planet’s marine life--it’s a hydrophone like the one I took to Botswana in the summer of 2015.

What is a National Geographic Fellow?

National Geographic Fellows are scientists and storytellers who engage in Conservation, Exploration and Scientific Research all over the world, funded by the National Geographic Society. In 2013, I was awarded one of these research prizes for developing some sensors that can help us protect the fish in our oceans and rivers by detecting illegal fishing, pollution, and trespassing in protected areas.

Okavango Wilderness Project

In the summers of 2015-2017 I traveled to Botswana to join other National Geographic Fellows on the Okavango Wilderness Project. 

We want to protect the Okavango Delta and its marshlands forever. My part of this amazing project,  is to use a bunch of different sensors that I built to “measure the heartbeat of the Delta.” The sensors will tell us a lot about the health of the Okavango Delta.​

The Underwater Microphone (Hydrophone) Kit

This very simple but very cool DIY underwater microphone will let you listen to things that are happening in the water around you, whether that’s your bathtub or pool, your local fishing hole, a river or lake or even an ocean.​  It can also be used on land!

Hydrophone Kit

Buy A Kit

Note: In order to hear the sounds from the hydrophone, it requires an amplifier or to connect to a computer that can amplify.

Windows10 - Control Panel -> manage audio devices -> recording tab -> right click microphone -> click levels and adjust microphone boost.

What are Hydrophones Used For?

Did you know that hydrophones used to be the only way to detect submarines? They’re also used to listen for the calls of marine animals, like dolphins and whales, and can be used to map very deep waters. They help us listen for boat traffic, figure out whether undersea pipelines are leaking, and understand if and how underwater noise is affecting sea life.​

This is how some of our customers are using the hydrophone:

  • Educators at ocean and marine institutes
  • Sound design
  • Hobbyist listening to the ice crackling in his lake

Want to hear some cool hydrophone sounds? Click here to listen to turtles talking to each other!​

How Hydrophones Work

Piezoelectricity is the ability of certain crystals to produce a voltage when subjected to mechanical stress. http://encyclopedia.kids.net.au/page/pi/Piezoelectric_effect

What Can You Do With This Kit?

This kit is double the fun because in addition to water, it can also be used on land as a contact microphone, which senses audio vibrations through contact with solid objects turning mechanical vibrations into electricity.​

Here are just a few of the exciting uses of this versatile piece of equipment. Let your imagination go wild.​

In water:

* Underwater bio-acoustics - what do the animals that live in your local pond, lake, river, estuary or ocean sound like? Listen for them swimming, eating, or paddling around.​

* Listen to the fish in your fish tank​

* Discover what a dripping faucet sounds like in the bathtub​

* Stick it in ice and move the ice around​

* What does CO2 sound like? Stick it in your favorite soda drink to find out​

* Helpful at home - listen to find out if your pool is leaking​

On land:

* Attach it to the outside of a glass, add water and move your finger around the rim

* Use it with acoustic instruments such as ukuleles and guitars

* Bury it in the ground near an ant’s nest

* Detect the sounds of burrowing animals

* Does a tree make a sound if no one is around to listen? Find out!

* Attach to a wall to monitor building sounds

How To Become A Citizen Scientist

A citizen scientist is a person, like you, who has an interest in science and is willing to contribute time, ingenuity and creativity so that we can all understand our world a little bit better. If we all add our observations together, we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s happening in our environment --on land, sea and air. With your hydrophone, you can collect underwater sounds, upload the sounds to soundcloud and find out what’s making the sounds that you’ve collected.​

How Can Kids Join National Geographic?

It’s super easy. Just go to http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/#members.kids_join.​

How To Record Sounds

Audacity is a free, easy-to-use, multi-track audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux and other operating systems. The website includes the free software download and tutorials on how to hook up devices and record live.

Computers WithOut A "Line In"

Some computers, like the Macbook Air, don't come with a "line in", so you need to get a USB audio converter that allows you to plug the amplifier into your computer.

This is the USB audio converter that we use with our Macbook Air: http://amzn.to/2rNszX0

Steps to record using a Macbook Air and the Honeytone Amplifer that is included with the Premium Kit:

  1. Plug your hydrophone cable into the IN port on your amplifier
  2. Plug a TRS cable (stereo 3.5 mm cable) into the Head Phone jack located on the side of your amplifier
  3. Plug the USB External Sound Adapter into the USB port on your Mac
  4. Plug the other end of the TRS cable into the Line in (may be labeled 'microphone') of your USB adapter
  5. Turn on the amplifier
  6. Open System Preferences
  7. Click on Sound
  8. Click on Input
  9. Look for "USB Audio Device"
  10. Tap on your hydrophone -- you should see the input level change

- Make sure recording device is set to "USB Audio Device"
- Start recording

- Input = my instrument is connected with USB Audio Device
- Input Device: USB Audio Device
- Start recording

How To Upload Recordings To Sound Cloud

  1. Go to KitHub’s Soundcloud group called “Underwater Mics” https://soundcloud.com/groups/underwater-mics
  2. Click on “Upload to Group”
  3. If you have a Soundcloud account, log in. Otherwise, create an account
  4. Add Title, Tags, Description that includes
    • The sound you believe you recorded
    • Date the sound was recorded
    • City, state, zipcode
    • Longitude/Latitude (if possible)
    • Links to photos where you recorded the sound
  5. Click to Save

How To Determine What The Sounds Are You Collect

After the sounds are uploaded to Soundcloud, we’ll crowdsource the scientific and citizen science community to ask them to identify the sounds​

Orcas We Heard Off Vancouver Island

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