Rebecca O'Connell (istock)
Rebecca O'Connell (istock)

10 Surprisingly Noisy Sea Critters

Rebecca O'Connell (istock)
Rebecca O'Connell (istock)

We envision the sea floor as a serene, quiet place. We're wrong. There are hundreds of species whooping it up down there and that's not even counting the whales, sea lions, and mystery bloops.

1. Clownfish (subfamily Amphiprioninae)

They seem to get along just fine in the movies, but in real life the relationship between Nemo and his dad would be less happy family and more Mean Girls. Clownfish are all about social ladders. Boss fish maintain their place at the top by making aggressive popping noises at their subordinates, who respond with meek little clicking sounds. Also, in real life, when his fish-wife died, Marlin would have become Marlena, and Nemo would have become Marlena's new boyfriend but that's another story.

2. Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus heterochaelis)

If sea critters were historical figures, the role of Pistol Shrimp would be played by Annie Oakley. They've mastered her marksmanship, her showmanship, and especially her attitude. (Oakley was a master of the pissed-off understatement. "When a man hits a target, they call him a marksman," she famously said. "When I hit a target, they call it a trick. Never did like that much.") They've got specialized clobberin claws that they use like pistols, shooting bullet-like bubbles so fast that they can stun and even kill prey. The sound produced by this is a ludicrously loud 210 decibels, 60 decibels louder than an actual gunshot. The shot is so fast it produces a flash of light and, for just a moment, temperatures almost as hot as surface of the sun. So ... don't upset the pistol shrimp.

3. Swellshark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum)

Swellsharks are not big sharks. They're not especially mean, and they're not especially tough. So when life gets a little scary, they have to get creative ... and boy, do they ever. When threatened, the swellshark pulls its tail into its mouth, sucks water into its stomach, and inflates to about twice its size. If a predator approaches, the swellshark can wedge itself into a crevice and deploy this Stay-Puft routine, ensuring that nobody can pull him or her out. As if that wasn't weird enough, when the crisis has been duly averted, the shark expels its bellyful of water while making weird, dog-like barking noises. Scientists aren't sure if the barking is a side effect of the deflation or if it's yet another weird self-preservation strategy. Either way, it seems to work.

4. Northern Seahorse (Hippocampus erectus)

Seahorses are wonderfully weird and surprisingly romantic animals. When they first meet, seahorse couples will hold tails, swim snout-to-snout, blush (or, change colors), and dance for hours. During mating itself, they twine their tails together and take turns making sexy clicking noises by tossing their bony heads. How do these monogamous fish keep the passion alive? One word: dancing. They dance during courtship and they dance during mating. After the deed is done and the male has a pouch full o' babies, his lady love will visit him every morning to hold his tail, change color, and remind him of their dating days.

5. Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau)

The oyster toadfish, alternately known as the ugly toad, oyster cracker, or bar dog, is not nearly as romantic as the seahorse but they do try. During mating season, males build nests out of anything they can find, which is usually shells or rocks but often includes garbage. Once their trash-castles are complete, they signal to the females with their signature boat-whistle call, which sounds a lot like a lawnmower. Females can make these noises, too, but seem to only use them when they're mad.

6. Sea Urchin (class Echinoidea)

Ah, sea urchins. They're bizarre, they're desirable (or their nads are, anyway), and they've got a bad habit of chewing with their mouths open. If you ever flip an urchin over, you'll probably wish you hadn't. A sea urchin's got a mouth like a Sarlacc pit, complete with big, pointy teeth. And those teeth have to be pointy, because sea urchins eat rocks. They don't do it on purpose, though. Like parrotfish, what they're really after is the delicious algae that accumulates on rocks and coral reefs. To get at the algae, they scrape their teeth against the rocks, creating quite a racket.

7. Plainfin Midshipman (Porichthys notatus)

The DOSITS (Discovery of Sound in the Sea) project said it best:

For years, houseboat residents in Sausalito, CA, complained about a droning hum from San Francisco Bay on summer nights. The sound was so loud that it could drown out conversations and/or disrupt sleep. Theories for the mysterious sound included sewage pumps, military experiments, and submarines.

The culprit? The plainfin midshipman. Like its cousin the oyster toadfish, a male plainfin midshipman makes low humming noises to let the ladies know he's ready for loving. It's noisy enough when one male does it, but the combined effect of a whole neighborhood of hummers is loud enough to be heard on land.

8. Black Drum (Pogonias cromis)

The plainfin midshipman is not the only noisy neighbor in this list. The mating call of the black drum starts each night at dusk and continues for hours. Their calls are pitched super-low, which means they can travel great distances underwater, through the ground, and into the walls of people's houses. Unlike some neighbors, you can't outlast a black drum. The average male reaches the age of romance around four or five years old, but will continue advertising his virility for up to sixty years. You can't intimidate them into shutting up, either. They're huge (up to 100 pounds). And when they're upset? You guessed it. They start yelling.

9. California Mantis Shrimp (Hemisquilla californiensis)

Mantis shrimp aren't actually shrimp at all. The technical term is stomatopods, although it might be more accurate to call them unstoppable sea-things. Their reputation for violence precedes them. They've got specialized clobberin claws, which they use to smash open their prey at speeds of up to 75 feet per second. They've got spines for stabbing, and they're ready to rumble, literally. In laboratories and in the wild, male mantis shrimp make growly, grunt-like rumbling sounds at dawn and at dusk. Scientists speculate the rumbling males are using these sounds to defend their territory or attract females. But why choose? Those shrimp totally look like they could do both at the same time.

10. Lollipop Darter (Etheostoma neopterum)

Do you like dubstep? You'll love the lollipop darter. Whether they're flirting or fighting, the nighttime calls of these little fish are big, and they don't hesitate to drop the bass. Of all the fish in the sea (and lakes and rivers), ecologist Carol Johnston told The New Yorker, the lollipop darter is her favorite: they sound like whales.

Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds

Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.

There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]


More from mental floss studios