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World’s Largest and Oldest Audio Archive

by Catherine Borgeson on March 15th, 02013

Over the past 12 years, audio archivists at the The Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have digitized 7,513 hours of analog recordings of natural sounds. The collection houses the largest and oldest scientific archive of biodiversity audio and video recordings, and the entire collection is now accessible online.

These archived recordings started in 1929 when Cornell Lab founder Arthur Allen made the very first recordings of a Song Sparrow at Stewart Park in Ithaca, New York.  Since then, the collection has grown to around 150,000 digital audio recordings and represents about 9,000 different species.  Clips range from the 1966 recording of an ostrich chick inside its egg to the call of a male walrus:

Once heard, the “coda” song of the male walrus is one of those unforgettable sounds in the world. It is comprised of two basic types of elements, series of evenly-delivered taps followed by an extraordinary bell or gong-like sound. The ringing quality of this latter element is astonishing, especially in an aquatic environment, and that such a sound is produced by a walrus seems all the more improbable (but true). The function is not fully understood, but may convey dominance status to potential mates and rivals.

The Macaulay Library’s goal is to build the most comprehensive collection of natural sounds and to preserve such recordings. There is even an “Audio Most Wanted” list to help build the archive.