A method for detecting whistles, moans, and other frequency contour sounds

David K. Mellinger, Stephen W. Martin, Ronald P. Morrissey, Len Thomas, James J. Yosco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


An algorithm is presented for the detection of frequency contour sounds-whistles of dolphins and many other odontocetes, moans of baleen whales, chirps of birds, and numerous other animal and non-animal sounds. The algorithm works by tracking spectral peaks over time, grouping together peaks in successive time slices in a spectrogram if the peaks are sufficiently near in frequency and form a smooth contour over time. The algorithm has nine parameters, including the ones needed for spectrogram calculation and normalization. Finding optimal values for all of these parameters simultaneously requires a search of parameter space, and a grid search technique is described. The frequency contour detection method and parameter optimization technique are applied to the problem of detecting "boing" sounds of minke whales from near Hawaii. The test data set contained many humpback whale sounds in the frequency range of interest. Detection performance is quantified, and the method is found to work well at detecting boings, with a false-detection rate of 3% for the target missed-call rate of 25%. It has also worked well anecdotally for other marine and some terrestrial species, and could be applied to any species that produces a frequency contour, or to non-animal sounds as well. (C) 2011 Acoustical Society of America. [DOI: 10.1121/1.3531926]

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4055-4061
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011




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