A pistol shrimp snaps its claw in C sharp on Blacktip Island’s Jawfish reef Thursday as part of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. (photo courtesy of OpenCage)
Marine biologists on Blacktip Island this week discovered the snapping sounds made by the island’s pistol shrimps’ claws, when heard in succession, play all six of Johan Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
“No one had connected the dots until a computer glitch sequenced all the sounds from one reef,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine biology professor Goby Graysby said. “Apparently, those suckers’ve been doing it for a while, with shrimp from one section of the reef playing one concerto, then shrimp on the next part of the reef continuing with the next one.
“It’s still early in the study, but it looks like each shrimp snaps one individual note,” Graysby said. “Obviously, the higher in the shrimp hierarchy they are, the more frequent the note they play is in the melody. Our working hypothesis is as individuals die, or are eaten, others move up in the pecking order and younger ones move from apprentice status to minor roles.”
Researchers noted it’s possible for scuba divers to hear the music underwater.
“You’ve got to lie on the bottom up in the shallows for a while to really hear it,” Leigh Shore said. “My personal favorite is Brandenburg Number Three on Wahoo Reef. I can hang out there for hours and just Zen out to the music. The reef’s a very Baroque place, really.
“We have no proof, yet, but I’m pretty sure the Pederson shrimp organize and conduct the whole thing. They’re like that,” Shore said. “And if you go out a bit deeper, where the hardpan transitions to coral, you can hear the singing coral heads doing a counterpoint, a cappella accompaniment.”
Some on the island discarded the claim.
“It’s more hokum from that so-called university,” island resident Noddy Bolin said. “Them shrimps are no more playing Bach than my butt is. You run enough notes randomly through a program long enough, eventually you’ll get something sounds familiar.
“Hell, they do the experiment again, they’ll probably end up with Bohemian Rhapsody,” Bolin said. “It’s a riff on the old ‘given enough time, a bunch of monkeys with typewriters could reproduce the works of Shakespeare.’ Ten’ll get you 20 it’s just a scam to drum up grant money.”
Island dive operators, however, are ecstatic about the discovery.
“We’re tracking which reefs play which tunes at what times so we can schedule concert dives,” Club Scuba Doo dive manager Finn Kiick said. “We’ll drop divers in the shallows, where their air lasts longer, maybe take them reef-to-reef so they can hear each concerto in succession. For an upcharge, of course. Per concerto.
“We’re also culling shrimp who’re off key, or out of time,” Kiick said. “It seems harsh, but it’ll improve the performance. And our overall product.”
Environmental activists decried the culling.
“It’s bad enough to put gaggles of scuba divers on top of these shrimp,” Wade Soote said. “But to go out and kill wildlife just because you think it doesn’t sound right? That’s abhorrent.
“If Finn actually goes through with this, he’ll regret it,” Soote said. “We have underwater protests planned. As soon as his divers go in, we’ll go to town with our tank bangers and rattlers and air horns. If the guests can’t hear the shrimp, or if the shrimp get spooked and stop snapping, Finn’ll have a hell of a time selling his dives.”