Photo of a hydrophone and its partsAn acoustician is someone who specializes in the study of sound. Many people mistakenly believe that acoustics is strictly musical or architectural in nature. On the contrary, acoustics is the interdisciplinary study of sound, and the field is very diverse, including people who study the production of sound, the physical properties of sound and its transmission in the environment or within enclosed spaces, and how sounds are received and used. These studies may focus on human-produced sounds, animal sounds, and/or sounds in the natural environment. Acousticians include engineers, physicists, speech and hearing scientists, doctors and medical researchers, architects, biologists, psychologists, mathematicians, oceanographers, computer scientists, and musicians. The application of acoustics is present in almost all aspects of life, including designing a concert hall, helping people with hearing impairments, investigating communication in marine animals, or researching the way in which sound travels underwater. Acoustician jobs can include opportunities for research in the field and/or a laboratory setting.

Education Requirements

Estimated Salary

  • B.S. in biology, physics, mathematics, engineering or related field
  • Graduate degree often needed for advancement. A PhD is necessary for most independent research and for college teaching jobs

Given the interdisciplinary nature of acoustics, additional coursework that focuses on acoustics may be all that is necessary for jobs in which acoustics plays a secondary role.

Given the broad, interdisciplinary nature of acoustics and the backgrounds of people working with acoustics, salaries are quite varied. For salary information, please visit the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics to learn about specific careers:

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Mechanical Engineers
Computer Scientists

Tasks and Duties

Acoustics is a broad field and specific tasks and duties will depend on the focus of a selected position. Responsibilities may include:

  • Describing, quantifying, measuring, and/or analyzing sound waves
  • Predicting and measuring noise levels
    • Identifying sources of noise and their respective generation and propagation mechanisms
  • Investigating sound production, reception, and behavior in animals
  • Studying the potential impacts of noise on a range of species including marine mammals, fishes, amphibians, and terrestrial mammals (including humans)
  • Tracking and monitoring wildlife using acoustic methods
    • Population abundance, seasonality, and behavior
    • Detection, classification, and localization of animal sounds
  • Measuring oceanic properties (physical, biological, geological, chemical etc.) using acoustic methods
  • Testing, and calibrating underwater acoustic devices
    • Working to support offshore industries, oceanographic science, marine environmental acoustics, and defense applications
  • Conducting environmental compliance assessments (terrestrial and marine)
  • Designing, developing, testing, and evaluating sonar systems
  • Understanding and applying regulations, standards, and codes of practice relating to the assessment and control of noise and vibration

Knowledge and Skills

Applicable knowledge is varied and will depend on the field of acoustics one chooses to pursue, but may include:

  • Acoustics
  • Animal Behavior and Ecology
  • [Applied] Mathematics
  • Architecture
  • Bioacoustics
  • Engineering (electrical, mechanical)
  • Measurement techniques and signal processing
  • Mechanics (theoretical mechanics, fluid dynamics)
  • Oceanography
  • Psychology
  • Physics
  • Physiology
  • Speech communication
  • Statistics

Basic skills may include:

  • Preparing and conducting investigations using standard acoustical techniques and equipment
  • Applying methods as described in relevant acoustic standards

Additional basic skills may include:

  • Research and analytical skills
    • Experimental design and application
    • Field observation and sampling
    • Data organization, processing, and analytics
    • Willingness to work long hours in a laboratory or in the field
    • Some positions may require specialized laboratory skills.
    • Shipboard experience may be useful
  • Written and oral communication skills
    • Preparation of technical reports and presentations
    • Authoring research articles
    • Drafting grant proposals
  • Computer skills
    • Use of computer applications
  • Interpersonal skills
    • Ability to cooperate and collaborate with others
    • Public interactions and public speaking (ability to explain things to diverse audiences)

Connections to Underwater Acoustics

The study of underwater acoustics traditionally leads one to job opportunities in academia, industry, and/or laboratory research positions. Since the characteristics of the water environment permit sound to be transmitted over very long distances, sound is an extremely valuable tool for sensing the underwater environment. Acoustic signals are used to How is sound used to measure temperature in the ocean? , study ocean currents , measure rainfall and wind over the ocean , detect the presence and location of marine animals, explore behavior of marine animals, map the seafloor , underwater earthquakes and volcanic activity, and to explore the Earth for oil and gas deposits.

Underwater acousticians study natural and anthropogenic underwater sounds, how these sounds are produced, and the propagation, reflection and scattering of these sounds in the underwater environment. Individuals in this field may also study and measure oceanic properties (physical, biological, geological, chemical etc.) using acoustic methods.

Bioacoustics is an interdisciplinary science focusing on sound production and reception in animals, how sounds are used by difference species, and how sound can be used to detect and localize animals. This field of study can include researching how animals produce and receive sounds; what types of sounds might cause injury or damage; the role of sound in a species’ life history; and the ways in which animal and plant life can be disrupted through sound. The study or the relationship between animals, their environment, and sound is called acoustic ecology. Marine fishes and mammals produce underwater sounds and bioacousticians may study how these sounds relate to behaviors such as reproduction, feeding, and communication. Bioacoustics work may also include the use of underwater acoustic tools such as hydrophones , hydrophone arrays, and other passive acoustic sensors ( Real-time Passive Acoustic Sensors and Passive Acoustic Recording Tags ).

Related Careers

  • Acoustic Ecologist
  • Acoustical Engineer
  • Biological Oceanographer
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Ichthyologist
  • Marine Geologist
  • Marine Mammalogist
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Ocean Engineer
  • Physical Oceanographer
  • Seismologist
  • Zoologist


People and Sound
Investigate Marine Animals>How is sound used to study marine mammal distribution?
Investigate Marine Animals>How is sound used to estimate marine mammal abundance?
Investigate Marine Animals>How is sound used to protect marine mammals?
Investigate Marine Animals>How is sound used to study the distribution of marine fishes?
Investigate Marine Animals>How is sound used to measure plankton?

Study Weather> How is sound used to measure rainfall over the ocean?
Study Weather> How is sound used to measure wind over the ocean?

Research Ocean Physics> How is sound used to measure temperature in the ocean?
Research Ocean Physics> How is sound used to measure global climate change?
Research Ocean Physics> How is sound used to measure currents in the ocean?
Research Ocean Physics> How is sound used to measure waves in the surf zone?
Research Ocean Physics> How is sound used to measure the upper ocean?
Research Ocean Physics> How is sound used to help make long-term measurements of the ocean?

Examine the Earth> How is sound used to study the earth’s history?
Examine the Earth> how is sound used to explore for oil and gas?
Examine the Earth> How is sound used to study undersea earthquakes and volcanic eruptions?
Examine the Earth> How is sound used to research wind energy?

Technology Gallery
Basic Technology> Hydrophone/Receiver
Basic Technology> Projector (sound source)

Observing the Sea Floor> Multibeam Echosounder

Observing Ocean Currents and Temperature > ADCP (Acoustic Dopple Current Profiler)

Observing and Monitoring Marine Mammals> Fish Finding Sonars
Observing and Monitoring Marine Mammals> Archival Marine Acoustic Recording Units (ARUs)