Coral reef at Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef

Sounds of the reef

26 August 2015

Teeming with life, a healthy coral reef is one of the noisiest places in the ocean.

Recorded using underwater microphones, this cacophony can sound to our ears remarkably like frying bacon. Listen for yourself and read on to discover the cause.

The 'frying' sound is produced by snapping shrimp (Alpheidae). These small shrimp - about 3 to 5 centimetres long - use their unique pincers to produce a very loud 'pop' of bubbles that's so powerful it can stun or kill small fish, which the shrimp eat. The frying sound is the result of lots of these shrimp hunting in the same area.

The sound is so loud, the snapping shrimp competes with much larger creatures, such as the blue whale, to be the loudest animal in the ocean.

Reef sounds are beneficial to some marine animals, which use them to locate reefs - a source of food and shelter. For researchers, recent studies suggest that sound recordings could be an effective and economical way to assess the health of vulnerable coral reefs, since reefs tend to go quiet as animals abandon them when conditions aren’t suitable.

See the shrimp's bubble pistol in action in this short BBC clip:

Audio recorded as part of the Catlin Seaview Survey.

Listen to more reef recordings on the NOAA website

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website explains other sounds you could hear on coral reefs around the world, with examples.

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