Rumbles in the Deep

Have you ever been in a subway station, conversing with somebody, when a train goes by and you can no longer hear your friend? What do you usually do in that situation? How would you react if your conversations were constantly being interrupted by noise?

Chronic noise can be stressful for humans, but many people don’t consider how animals are affected by noise. Because sound travels so quickly underwater, and much of the ocean is dark, almost all ocean animals are acoustically sensitive and are likely to be affected by unwanted noise.

In a 2010 study, RSMAS student Erica Staaterman and her co-authors discovered that one species of burrow-dwelling shrimp, the California Mantis Shrimp, produces low-frequency “rumbles” to communicate. Just like birds or insects, these animals rumble en masse during dawn and dusk choruses. Their rumbles are distinctive – each shrimp has its own “pitch” and “rhythm” – and the sounds are likely used to attract mates or defend territories.


However, because these shrimp live along the California coastline, there is a tremendous amount of boat activity in their habitat, and thus, a tremendous amount of anthropogenic noise. Because the sounds of the boats directly overlap with the sounds of the shrimp, there is potential for “acoustic masking” – the same phenomenon that occurs when you lose the ability to converse with your friend in the subway station.

While the direct impacts of the noise on the mantis shrimp are unknown, in other animals acoustic masking interferes with basic everyday functions such as finding food, finding mates, or defending territory. In her talk at TEDxCoconutGrove, Erica shared with the audience these “rumbles from the deep” and demonstrated the interference that is caused by boat noise. She asked the audience to consider the impacts of such intangible, yet extremely important, threats to marine ecosystems.

Rumbles in the Deep is a TEDx talk by Erica Staaterman.  Currently in her fourth year at UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Erica is studying tropical marine soundscapes. Under the mentorship of UM Rosenstiel professor Dr. Claire Paris, she is working to understand the role of coral reef soundscapes in the recruitment of larval fish. After she finishes her PhD she hopes to apply her knowledge of acoustics to help mitigate ocean noise.

 Link to the video: