Sally Sold Seashells by the Seashore

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When you were little, how often did you go to the beach and collect seashells?  You would put them up to your ear and hear the crashing of the ocean waves inside.  You would then decide to take the shells home with you.  On the way home, you'd put the shell to your ear and hear the ocean waves again.  At your house, you would do the same and hear the ocean waves yet again from inside the shell.  How is that possible?  No matter how many miles away from the ocean you ended up being, the sound of the sea still stayed consistent.

Over the years there have been many surmises about how exactly this sound comes from the seashells.  The most likely explanation of this mystery is actually just from the noise around you.  If you hold the seashell just above your ear, it will capture the noise around you and it will then resonate in the shell, creating wavelike sounds.  While size and shape of the shell itself may slightly skew the noise, the rushing of the noise within the shell always sounds like the crashing of the ocean. 

In addition, researchers say, however, that it is not even necessary to have the shell in order to create the noise.  You can actually produce the same affect with just a cup or bowl, or even cupping your hands around your ears (I'm sure you are trying this now as you are reading.  I know I did when I read the article about it!).  Again the noise of the ocean will appear from capturing the noise around us and concentrating it into a small area near the ear.  The pitch and level of sound will vary depending on the angle the cup is from your ear as well as the distance. 

Now that we know where the sound is coming from, how exactly is it produced? When holding a shell to your ear, outside noise from around you is picked up and goes inside the small space of the shell.  The noise then bounces around within the cavity of the shell and then to the ear drum (for more information on how the parts of the ear work, click here).  Because the area is so small, it produces a sound that can be recognized as the crashing of waves in the ocean.  Because this ocean noise produced is formulated from outside noise, the ocean sound changes in relation to the noise around you; the noisier it is around you the louder the ocean sound will be.  The same goes for if your environment is quiet around you. 

Knowing this information gives us a short look into sound production as well as how our ear perceives different sounds.  So what do you think?  Has this myth that the ocean is stuck inside of shells been busted?



1 Comment

Going to the beach is one of my favorite things. Your blog is very interesting because I always wondered why we could hear the ocean from listening to the shell. When I was little my mom had told me that the shells carry the sound of the ocean in them so that they never get lost. Now being older and more intelligent, I know my mom was just making something up to answer my questions. Thanks to your blog I now have a better understanding!

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