Recent expansion in the capabilities of passive acoustic monitoring of sound-producing animals is providing expansive data sets in many locations. These long-term data sets will allow the investigation of questions related to the ecology of sound-producing animals on time scales ranging from diel and seasonal to inter-annual and decadal. Analyses of these data often span multiple analysts from various research groups over several years of effort and, as a consequence, have begun to generate large amounts of scattered acoustic metadata. It has therefore become imperative to standardize the types of metadata being generated. A critical aspect of being able to learn from such large and varied acoustic data sets is providing consistent and transparent access that can enable the integration of various analysis efforts. This is juxtaposed with the need to include new information for specific research questions that evolve over time. Hence, a method is proposed for organizing acoustic metadata that addresses many of the problems associated with the retention of metadata from large passive acoustic data sets.
A structure was developed for organizing acoustic metadata in a consistent manner, specifying required and optional terms to describe acoustic information derived from a recording. A client-server database was created to implement this data representation as a networked data service that can be accessed from several programming languages. Support for data import from a wide variety of sources such as spreadsheets and databases is provided. The implementation was extended to access Internet-available data products, permitting access to a variety of environmental information types (e.g. sea surface temperature, sunrise/sunset, etc.) from a wide range of sources as if they were part of the data service. This metadata service is in use at several institutions and has been used to track and analyze millions of acoustic detections from marine mammals, fish, elephants, and anthropogenic sound sources.