Acoustic Ecology: What the Snapping Shrimp can Tell Us about Climate Change

Alpheus bellulus (Snapping shrimp) with partner Cryptocentrus cinctus (Yellow shrimp goby). A symbiotic relationship where the blind shrimp digs the protective burrow and the keen eyed goby serves as lookout.

Alpheus bellulus (Snapping shrimp) with partner Cryptocentrus cinctus (Yellow shrimp goby). A symbiotic relationship where the blind shrimp digs the protective burrow and the keen eyed goby serves as lookout. By Nhobgood Nick Hobgood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A new project is enlisting artists to listen to sound tracks of acoustic monitors in reefs and other ecological locations, so they can raise the alarm if anything sounds different.

World Science Festival: How music and science combine to monitor climate change

By Jessica McGrath Posted yesterday at 9:27am

Bubbling beakers and Bunsen burners are being traded in for drum machines, sound generators and music software at the World Science Festival in Brisbane.

Music researcher Dr Leah Barclay told the 100 Ways To Listen project that artists and scientists working together could unlock the secrets of climate change.

“The way we think about music and the way sound artists listen, can really influence and inspire how scientists are responding to climate change,” she said.

Recording sound from different environments, allowed music scientists to monitor climate change, by using hydrophones and binaural microphones that mimicked the same technology as the human ear.

“Dramatic changes in aquatic ecosystems can go unnoticed simply due to visibility,” said Dr Barclay, whose hydrology piece featured recordings of the world’s water systems collected over a decade.

This non-invasive technique called acoustic ecology enabled the researchers “to listen to an active and healthy reef and hear active fish and snapping shrimp” or the increased traffic of Humpback whales, she said.

Read more:

Who needs quantitative physical measurements, when we can learn all we need to know about the climate, from the chatter of the snapping shrimp, or artists’ interpretation of whale songs?

62 thoughts on “Acoustic Ecology: What the Snapping Shrimp can Tell Us about Climate Change

  1. I suppose someone is now going to copyright this ‘music of the snapping shrimp’ followed by a fish-humpback duet.

  2. Eric, I honestly could not believe this was true. However a bit more research confirmed that she is based at Griffith University in Australia and “Leah is the President of the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology, the Vice President of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology and the founder and artistic director of Biosphere Soundscapes, a large-scale interdisciplinary project exploring the changing soundscapes of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves across the world.”

    The Aussie tax payers must be very generous bunch.

    • I fear they are planning to use the snapping shrimp in a new $5 million study to find an alternative way to measure ocean heat content.

      The models suggests that an increase in temperature may result in more snapping however the Red Lobster calibration tests need to be conducted first.

      • lee
        The BUFFs
        I understand they have a phenomenal bombing accuracy.
        Every bomb that B-52s have ever dropped has hit the Earth.

        And long may they be available – if not superseded.

        I think it was a Cessna that was described as a plane that had barely enough power to kill you when it crashed . . . . . .

    • “KRM March 28, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      The Aussie tax payers must be very generous bunch.”

      Ordinary taxpayers don’t get any say in what is taken from our wages, as it is done at source. For starters there is the 9.5% superannuation levy taken before tax, then a 2% Medicare levy on taxable income (We actually paid an additional, temporary, 0.5% during the Gillard Govn’t a few years back during the Brisbane floods, I am not sure if it was revoked. Actually, I am sure it was 1.5% before, so looks like it stayed), then we have tax bands that start at 0% for income between $0 – $18,200, 19% between $18,201 – $37,000, 32.5% between $37,001 – $80,000, 37% between $80,001 – $180,000 and finally 45% over $180,001. Added to that are other taxes like GST and a whole host of others which makes lining in Australia very expensive. Many taxpayers get Royally annoyed when we see articles like this describing what our taxes get spent on, and even more annoyed when we hear politicians rorting their “allowances”.

    • Just another academic freighthopping the gravy train. Guess she wants to catch it before it leave the yard for good. As several TV News interviewees have stated: “Get what you can get while you can get it.”

    • Of course, with the many different species whose populations fluctuate over time due to changes in many different factors, such as predator-prey cycles and disease cycles, it is and will forever be that climate change, in this case tenths of a degree of water temperature, cannot be detected simply too much noise (pun intended).

    • Maybe she prefers this sort of pointless research to looking at something useful like the detrimental effects of low frequency noise as produced by those darlings of the green world windmills.

      James Bull

  3. It’s a little-known fact that snapping shrimp started snapping only after Count Basie started blowing his horn. It’s the evolution of jazz appreciation. I’ll bet Dr. Leah Barclay never even considered that.

  4. It’s got nothing to do with science or listening to “the Reef” and everything to do to making government funds available to eco-fascist groups to maintain their political presence….. You just cannot escape these people. They own the system.

  5. This all reminds me of an SF story I read years ago, where government money was all there was and you got it by having a research or social project designated as a vald ‘category’. the protagonists file a claim to be validated as ‘valid category’ inventors…

    i cant find it on the net tho….

  6. Yesterday I heard Chantal Kreviazuk (link deliberately omitted) practically in tears because her son had an asthma attack caused by climate change. We sure can learn a lot about science from musicians.

  7. Man you can just hear the planet warming can’t you? LOL. Anyone ever see the movie Idiocracy? We’re there.

  8. I used to always get a kick of watching shrimp noise in the OBC spread between shots. I didn’t realize I was doing climate research…

  9. “Music researcher Dr Leah Barclay told the 100 Ways To Listen project that artists and scientists working together could unlock the secrets of climate change.”

    Time to give a “healthy reef” on the pursestrings. I’m sorry, but Ozzies seem to have more wifty poofty climate scientists per capita than anywhere in the world. They have an “ARC Centre of Excellence in Climatology” that awarded such as the commander of the Ship of Fools, etc. They have an epidemic of Climate Change Blues caused by the “Pause” (a form of classical psychological деиайл). Comon’ Oz, you are a laughing stock even among other world climate scientists. A recent commenter on WUWT was talking about some annual awards for wacky nutball science. Bring it on – they should be tagged. Note also, strengthening of my theory that the once manly pursuit of climate science is over recent years being handed over to the nurturing sex. I’ve raised this in the context of the flood of women in politics making the biggest contribution to neomarxbrothers (read now neomarxsisters) politics. I also mentioned Thatcher, Golda Meir, Benadir Bhutto, Indira Ghandi, Marie Curie, Susan Crockford, Cleopatra, etc. being the exceptions to the rule. Of course none of these were (are) feminists. The drift to “nanny” statehood caused a buffalo-like stampede of women into politics over a generation who want to nurture us, protect us, cry for us. They feel they have to strike off in bold (old) directions to stand out. They scare the hell out of me.

  10. This reminded me of learning to tell temperature from the chirps per minute crickets make in Boy Scouts some fifty years ago. But that is an actual measurement.

  11. This sounds like good innovative science.
    If you cannot see what is in the environment
    for whatever reason then you can use sound to find out what is there. It is not that different to sonar. What you will from a simple recording would be a list of what animals are present. More carefully analysis could determine individuals from their sounds. And so on.

  12. Music researcher Dr Leah Barclay … artists and scientists working together could unlock the secrets of climate change.

    Well, you have to give Dr. Barclay due credit. She is a musician, and yet has found a way to get on the Global Warming gravy train. Most of us would have thought that Global Warming was a largely “scientific” pursuit with no real room for the performing arts. Dr. Barclay changed all that.

    Meanwhile, back in the United States:
    The Radical Left is on a bizarre war against the notion of the two sexes. Now, we have “genders” instead. It started with LGBTQ, added GenderQueer, GenderFlexible, nongendered, GenderFluid, and on and on, dozens more.
    New York City officially approved a list of 32 recognized genders.
    (Google it, too horrible to provide a link here.)
    What does this have to do with ClimateScience!, you ask?

    Climate Change causes increase in PolyGenderism in urban environments, study suggests.
    Funding required, of course.

    (You read it here first.)

  13. The idea of monitoring by sound is sound. Bird surveys or often done primarily by sound. Where it gets flaky is in saying things like musicians will somehow be involved and that we will trade in beakers for drum machines or some such horses***. I imagine it would take a lot of effort to train oneself to make sense of ocean sounds so that will eliminate involvement from the noble cause syndrome people because as we all know, they are too busy saving the world to actually learn anything.

    • I agree that it is probably a good idea both to monitor reef sounds over a long term and also to use the trained ears of musicians to help interpret those sounds.
      In Tom Clancy’s “Hunt for Red October” the odd sounds of the submarine are first detected by a sonar man who was a keen music buff..

      Having said that, I suspect many Aussies would prefer the money to be spent monitoring sound changes in the vicinity of wind farms.

  14. Once had a client who sold classical music for dogs and cats. Different selections for each btw. Only sold a few but he did get investors to pay at least one famous conductor and of course himself. Thi s may be the same person.

  15. I am afraid they got the jump on me. I was just about to submit my grant for a study on the close relationship between the amount and type of punctuation in free form poetry and the pevalence of extreme weather near coffee shops. And yes, it will involve a substantial effort with regards to on site surveys. Science doesn’t just do itself.

  16. Our famly has a funny and embarrassing story realted to this top, impossible to identify source.ic.

    On our very first ever trip to the Caribbean, in our first (and only) sailing catamaran, anchored in some lovely isolated bay, I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound for fire in the bilges — the crackling, whooshing sound of a nice campfire. As Captain, I shouted the rest of the crew awake, armed them with fire extinguishers, and ordered a careful inspection of all bilges and the engine compartments — “Feel the deck plates before opening — don’t open them if hot!”. Though it seemed like hours, only a minute ot two passed before all areas were inspected and found perfectly normal — no fire, no smoke, no heat.

    Yet the sound of a happy campfire continued, with a very elusive and unidentifiable source point.

    I sent the crew back to their bunks but continued to try to solve the mystery on my own for another hour…

    Once I had thoroughly convinced myself that there was in fact no fire and no threat a faint and faded memory came to mind, I had read something about this years and years ago….I lay back down on my bunk, shifted my mind into neutral and let the memory slowly surface without any attempt to force it.


    That was it. Snapping shrimp are attracted to the growth on the hull of boats and rise from the sandy bottom to feed on one’s hull. The happy little critters start eating and chirping away. The hull amplifies and focuses the sound of hundreds of shrimp happily snapping — making a sound indistinguishable from a campfire.

    What a wonderful world!

  17. They are called Pistol Shrimp because of the loud noise they make- at least here in the south. Are we too politically correct to use that term anymore, so had to change it?

    • Yes. It’s well known that climate change causes an increase in gun violence, so they didn’t want to bias the study if any of the artists listening were rappers.

  18. While anchored in the creek off Beaufort, S.C. several years ago the ‘swimps’ (creek shrimp) just outside the boat hull got so noisy on some nights you could hardly sleep. I never new there was non-snapping shrimp until reading this article.

  19. But the real acoustic oceanography does begin at Perth, and ends at Bermuda. Sonic travel time in 1960: 13375 seconds; 2004? 13375 seconds. No warming.

    Brian Dushaw: ” The measurements in 1960 were established to have a meaningful accuracy, and equivalent signals were computed using numerical ocean state estimates for 2004. No change in travel time (hence no change in temperature from 1960 to 2004) was observed.”


  20. I used to have a record a long time ago where some bright person had the idea of assigning a musical notes to the the constant variations in Earth’s magnetic field. It wasn’t terrifically good music and no, I wasn’t smoking anything at the time, but it was quite interesting. Strangely it didn’t alter the climate and I lost the record. I’m sure This is a renewed opportunity for vast research funding today.

  21. I think we need some of these musicians getting up-close-and-personal with cows to listen to their farts. The methane they produce is supposedly a huge factor in global warming…we need to identify any possible changes in their flatulence. Maybe some other skilled artists can try to use other sense as well (e.g., smell).

    • Actually most of the methane comes out at the front end, so we first need a research program to find how to correlate the number of “mooh”‘s to the amount of methane released.

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