Coughing Scallops Key to Water Quality

Published on November 28th, 2012 | by


Coughing scallops may provide a novel way to determine water quality.

A scallop “coughs” when it cleans out its shell.  If the inside gets dirty more often, the scallop coughs more often.  A scallop’s cough is distinct from other underwater noise made by nearby sea dwellers.  Unlike whale songs, which can be heard for miles, a scallop’s cough can only be heard up to a little over thirty feet away.

The cough could indicate that water quality is decreasing.  Pollution from fish farms, runoff from agricultural, and other contaminants can affect how the scallops grow and how often they cough.  Current methods used to determine how scallops are faring in polluted waters include attaching motion sensors to their shells and examining tiny ridges on their shells, both of which are intrusive to the scallop.  Monitoring coughs would be a kindness to the scallop while saving researchers time and effort.

Curious to know what a scallop sounds like when it’s coughing?  The scientists recorded it.  You can listen to it here.

Scallops photo via Shutterstock

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  • […] The oyster industry in the United States was worth $117 million in 2010. While pollution and both manmade and natural disasters have taken their toll on the industry in recent years, interest is growing in establishing more oyster farms. Oysters and other shellfish also help to clean the waters of bays and estuaries. They circulate and filter the water, removing pollutants and excess algae. Some shellfish can even be used as a warning that an area is becoming too polluted. […]

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