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This Is What Climate Change Sounds Like

Wildlife Acoustics helps ecologists track vanishing critters. Now it’s enabling hobbyists to hear the ones that are left.
Ian Agranat, founder and chief executive officer of Wildlife Acoustics Inc., tests the Song Meter SM4 recorder.

Ian Agranat, founder and chief executive officer of Wildlife Acoustics Inc., tests the Song Meter SM4 recorder.

Photographer: Tony Luong for Bloomberg Businessweek
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One of the best instruments scientists can use to map climate change is roughly the size of a thumb—and adorable. The humble tree frog (genus Hyla) has proliferated from Florida to Alaska, yet it’s a delicate critter. Its disappearance from a habitat is an early warning that the place is becoming deforested, drier, or simply hotter. But tree frogs tend to hide from people tramping through the woods, and many possess camouflage, making them tough to spot. They’re a lot easier to hear.

That’s where Wildlife Acoustics Inc. comes in. With creatures around the globe telling the story of climate change, Wildlife is one of the few companies listening. Some 36,000 of its audio recording and transcription devices dot the wilderness, tracking animals’ movements by the sounds they make, from North America’s frogs to the birds that brave the ice pack of the North Pole, from the bat-thick belfries of Britain to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, where oil drillers have to be mindful of passing whales.