The Ear is a Mussel

Photo from greybirdstudio on flickr.com

Mussels Stressed By Underwater Noise From Ships

There are many ways that humans are impacting the ocean (chemical runoff, CO2 input, bottom trawling/dredging, oil spills, introduced species, shoreline barriers, offshore platforms – I could do this all day). One that doesn’t get as much chatter is sound (or noise pollution), specifically from container ships, drilling, or construction. When we do consider sound as a potentially harmful human pollutant, it’s almost exclusively in the context of marine mammals – a number of which famously ‘sing’ to communicate or use echolocation and are thus sensitive to an altered soundscape.

New research shows that you don’t need to have ears (or even a backbone!) to be influenced by high-decibel shipping traffic in your neighborhood. Scottish scientists demonstrated that mussels – shelled bivalves like clams – are indeed sensitive to sound. In fact, subjecting mussels to recorded engine noise in the lab was quite detrimental: they took in less oxygen, ate less, and even showed damage to their DNA – their freaking DNA.

The scientists point out that there are plenty of mussel beds in high traffic shipping lanes in the UK and beyond, so obviously this isn’t an immediate threat and they’re doing OK. But, it could make mussels more susceptible to other negative changes in their environment in the future. And who knew the humble mussel was so in tune with its sonic environment? Certified R.A.D.

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