Where the Wild Things Aren’t: The Sound of Extinction


Photo: darkmountain.net

Close your eyes for a second and listen.  What do you hear? I am accustom to the constant drone from the Osborne bridge; however, today I find myself annoyed by the persistent beep coming from the adjacent building.  The building is getting repainted and the painters have an extending ladder/machine/robo-cop hybrid that makes a noise identical to the beeping heard in McDonald’s.  I am disgusted with my drawn parallel and craving fast food at the same time…

While I am all for cranking Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, the literal sound of silence, especially when it is the result of extinction, is not desired.

CBC Radio recently covered Bernie Krause, the man behind Wild Sanctuary, an organization that records and archives nature’s soundscapes.  Krause also founded soundscape ecology, which is defined on Sonic Spaces as: “a scientific discipline that attempts to understand the mechanisms by which sound impacts how organisms and ecological processes function, exploring the complex interplay of biological, geophysical, and anthropogenic sounds produced by a landscape over space and time.”

While parts of Krause’s job sound like a dream, the somber undertone is that of extinction. From underwater reefs, to forest floors, to silence– perhaps the most valuable lesson from Krause’s work is what we have lost.  Krause, who has over 4,500 hours of recorded nature sounds, states that over half of his recordings are from places that no longer exist.

Bernie at Tidepool Google

Krause at tidepool. Photo via Google

A prime example of human’s impact on nature is juxtaposed in Krause’s recordings below:

Before logging in Lincoln Meadow, California


After logging in Lincoln Meadow, California

Prior to discovering Krause, I stuck to nonfiction books regarding extinction.  While Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Terry Glavin’s Waiting for the Macaws certainly spoke to the dire situation, Krause’s recordings resonate somewhere deeper and more profound.

In the words of Krause, “while a picture is worth a thousand words, a sound is worth a thousand pictures.”


Hear Krause himself by listening to this TEDTalk here!


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