Snapping shrimp may act as ‘dinner bell’ for gray whales off Oregon coast

13 February 2018


Included in this announcement:

  1. Research from the Ocean Sciences Meeting: Snapping shrimp may act as ‘dinner bell’ for gray whales off Oregon coast
  2. Today’s press conferences

1. Research from the Ocean Sciences Meeting: Snapping shrimp may act as ‘dinner bell’ for gray whales off Oregon coast

Snapping shrimp are among the noisiest animals in the ocean. They produce a loud clicking noise when snapping their claws to stun or kill their prey.
Credit: Anker A, Grave S, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Scientists have for the first time captured the sounds of snapping shrimp off the Oregon coast and think the loud crackling from the snapping of their claws may serve as a dinner bell for eastern Pacific gray whales, according to new research being presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting here today.

Snapping shrimp are among the noisiest animals in the ocean. They produce a loud clicking noise when snapping their claws to stun or kill their prey. When enough shrimp snap at once, the din can be louder than the roar of a passenger jet flying overhead.

Snapping shrimp are typically found in warm, shallow subtropical waters all over the world, but no one had yet detected them in the colder waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. But in 2016, ocean researchers deployed a drifting hydrophone – a microphone that records sound underwater – in the shallow waters off the Oregon coast. When they listened to the hydrophone recordings, they noticed something strange – loud popping, clacking sounds characteristic of snapping shrimp. When the researchers compared the recordings to known snapping shrimp sounds, they matched.

An underwater recording of snapping shrimp sounds in the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve.
Credit: NOAA-PMEL Acoustics.

“Nobody was aware of any sign of snapping shrimp in Oregon nearshore waters ever – they are completely undocumented,” said Joe Haxel, a marine acoustics researcher at Oregon State University’s Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Newport, Oregon who will present the findings today at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting,  co-sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, The Oceanography Society and the American Geophysical Union. “That was a surprise, and very interesting to us, because we found areas with our drifting recordings that were just chock full of these snapping shrimp sounds, and they’re really loud.”

A gray whale blowing adjacent to a shallow, coastal rock and boulder area with high snapping shrimp acoustic activity. Taken under NOAA/NMFS permit #16111.
Credit: OSU/GEMM Lab.

In addition to discovering the presence of snapping shrimp, the researchers found eastern Pacific gray whales were often foraging near the rocky reefs the shrimp inhabit.

Gray whales don’t eat snapping shrimp, but they do eat other crustaceans usually found near the rocky reefs. Haxel and his colleagues suspect the loud snaps and cracks could be an acoustic cue to direct whales to areas of the ocean where their typical food might be plentiful.

“The ocean is really patchy with prey,” Haxel said. “But we’re seeing that whales are more concentrated in these rocky reef areas that have kelp and other food sources where the snapping shrimp are also found. So that potentially could be kind of a dinner bell effect.”

“Whales are very acoustic animals, so we assume that a lot of the cues they get about where food is located is based on sound,” said Leigh Torres, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University in Newport and collaborator on the research project. “The ocean is generally a very dark place, especially at night, but these whales feed around the clock. So when they can’t see, either because they’re in the deep ocean or because it’s night, they must rely on other cues, and we think acoustic cues are a primary way of doing that.”

The discovery is part of a larger effort by researchers to better understand the acoustic environment of Pacific Northwest coastal waters. By deploying the hydrophones, they hope to characterize the volume and types of sounds animals hear in Pacific Northwest waters. The new research shows snapping shrimp are an important contributor to the coastal soundscape, Haxel said.

The researchers are unsure whether snapping shrimp have inhabited these waters for some time or if they’ve just arrived. If the shrimp are new to the area, it’s not clear why they are showing up now. But the discovery of the shrimp and their connection to gray whale feeding grounds could mean changes to the underwater soundscape affect marine animals more than previously thought, according to Haxel.

“The co-location of snapping shrimp with particular habitats and foraging prey for gray whales begins to uncover a potentially very important link between the underwater acoustic environment and healthy ocean ecosystems,” he said.

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More than 4,000 scientists are expected to present the latest research findings about the world’s oceans at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting. The biennial meeting brings together researchers from the American Geophysical Union, the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, and The Oceanography Society.

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Notes for Journalists
Lead researcher Joe Haxel will give a poster presentation about this research on Tuesday, 13 February at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting.

Poster title:
Snapping Shrimp in Oregon? A Potential Acoustic Cue for Marine Predators

Session:
Advances in Approaches to Monitoring the Occurrence, Distribution, Behavior, and Ecology of Top Predators III Posters

Date: Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Time: 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. PST
Location: Oregon Convention Center, Poster Hall (Halls C and D)
Abstract number: IS24A-2573

Contact information for the researcher:
Joe Haxel: joe.haxel@oregonstate.edu, +1 (541) 961-5918.

 2. Today’s press conferences

The AGU press office has planned a number of press conferences highlighting newsworthy research being presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting. A list of today’s press conferences is below and can be found on the Press Conferences tab in the Ocean Sciences Meeting Media Center.

All Ocean Sciences Meeting press events will be streamed live on the Ocean Sciences press events webpage and archived on AGU’s YouTube channel. Press conference slides and other materials will be available in the Virtual Press Room on the Ocean Sciences Meeting Media Center website.

New technologies to study the ocean (Workshop)
Tuesday, 13 February
9:30 a.m. PST

Technologies to study the ocean are evolving at a rapid pace. This workshop will showcase how scientists are pushing technological boundaries in ocean observations, robotics, machine learning and visualization. Panelists will describe the next generation of Argo floats that will be able to descend to depths of 6,000 meters (20,000 feet); advances in robotic plankton, miniature autonomous underwater explorers that measure small-scale environmental processes in the ocean; and new imaging technologies to create 3D maps of coral reefs that allow researchers to track the growth and decline of individual colonies over time.

Participants:
Dean Roemmich, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, U.S.A.;
Jules Jaffe, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, U.S.A.;
Stuart Sandin, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, U.S.A.

Sessions: IS24E, IS31A, IS43B

Unusual ocean conditions contributed to Hurricane Harvey’s intensity
Tuesday, 13 February
10:30 a.m. PST

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in August 2017, it dumped more 1.5 meters (60 inches) of rain on the Texas coast, making it the wettest tropical cyclone to affect the continental U.S. in history. In this briefing, researchers will present new findings on how unusual ocean conditions in the Gulf of Mexico contributed to Harvey’s intense rainfall and flooding. Panelists will discuss how Harvey’s atypical storm surge “plugged” the drainage of coastal plains and extended the duration of the storm’s flooding; how the storm generated the largest ocean currents ever seen along the Texas coast in more than 25 years; and how an unusual amount of ocean heat contributed to the storm’s rapid intensification.

Participants:
Steven DiMarco, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, U.S.A.;
Henry Potter, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, U.S.A.;
Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, U.S.A.

Sessions: AI44C, E21A, IS12A


AGU Contact:

Nanci Bompey
+1 (914) 552-5759
nbompey@agu.org

Lauren Lipuma
+1 (504) 427-6069
llipuma@agu.org