Noisy fish sex – deafening creatures of the deep

Male midshipman fish have been keeping scores of families awake in Southampton with their loud mating calls.

The loud droning from their swim bladder, which is used to attract females, can go on for hours and increases in volume when competing males join in.

After a bit of fishing about, we’ve discovered that there are actually some really loud sea creatures out. Some are able to generate noise in excess of 200 decibels. When you consider the average human conversation is around 60-70 decibels and a jet engine produces 140 decibels, you’ll agree 200+ decibels is loud. Fear not though, as most of the noisy stuff is too big (or small) for one of your fishing rods.

Water boatman — 105 decibels

water boatman

Don’t be misled by its mini stature
Source: Wild About Britain

This one isn’t the loudest, but at just 2mm long, the Micronecta Scholtzi still manages to produce around 105 decibels with its mating song, which means that it is the loudest animal on this planet in relation to its body size. Even though 99% of the sound is lost when transferring to water to air, it is still loud enough to be heard from the riverbank when the creature is at the bottom of the river.

Perhaps even more impressive is that the boatman creates his songs by rubbing his penis against his abdomen in a process called stridulation. Don’t try this at home.

Northern elephant seal – 125 decibels

Northern elephant seal

Not the prettiest, but certainly loud
Source: True Wildlife

Found in the cold aquatic environments of the north, the large proboscis of the adult males resembles an elephant trunk hence the name. A complex breathing apparatus consisting of multiple chambers for storing oxygen, and it’s also what the seal uses to blow its own trumpet (metaphorically of course).

During mating season the seals make very loud roaring noises with this wannabe trunk to woo females, and can peak at around 125 decibels. That’s loud when you consider how many trumpets will be blowing at the same time. Good job they prefer the Polar Regions.

Blue whale – 188 decibels

blue whale

Its groans are louder than a rock concert
Source: Photozworld

It may be the biggest mammal in the world, but this graceful 200-tonne beauty with a tongue as heavy as an elephant, isn’t quite the loudest. It’s not far off though, as the blue whale’s siren call can reach levels of around 188 decibels, which is still much louder than a jet engine or even a rock concert.

The blue whale also emits a low frequency series of pulses, groans and moans, which can travel great distances under the water. Scientists believe that other blue whales travelling at distances of up to 1000 miles can pick up these noises.

Pistol shrimp — 218 decibels

pistol shrimp 2

Tiny but very mighty
Source: Environmental Graffiti

Despite being only 2 cm long the aptly named pistol (or snapping) shrimp is able to generate a split-second sound, which at 218 decibels is louder than a gunshot. Recognized by owning one humungous, oversized claw, which resembles a boxing glove, the pistol shrimp uses this deadly weapon to stun its prey.

The claw snaps shut with enough force to fire a jet of water at up to 62 mph. This generates a low pressure cavitation bubble that bursts with a loud snap and stuns unsuspecting prey. Death by deafness — ouch.

Sperm whale — 230 decibels

sperm whale

The loudest of the sea
Source: The Animal Planet

So if you like to play Top Trumps, you’d want the sperm whale card to win the noisiest sea creature category. The sperm whales head has a structure called monkey lips, which it uses to blow air through and also produce loud, booming clicks.

These clicks or codas, which are unique to each whale, are used like sonar to find food and also to communicate with other sperm whales. It is estimated by biologist and whale researcher, Magnus Wahlberg of Aarhus University in Denmark, that these clicks can reach levels of 230 decibels underwater. Meaning the sperm whale is the loudest sea creature we could find with the net.