10 Surprisingly Noisy Sea Critters

Rebecca O'Connell (istock)
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)

EricksonSmith, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

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)

Ron Caswell, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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)

Biodiversity Heritage Library, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

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.