Is it Possible to Hear the Ocean in a Seashell?

Have you ever been to the beach? Maybe you reside near the coast where you have the opportunity to see the ocean frequently. However, for most people, seeing the ocean requires a trip, sometimes a long one, to visit the seaside.

If you have ever taken a stroll along the shore, you have probably searched for seashells. However, they are not always easy to find. If you cannot find any large seashells, you may decide to visit a local souvenir shop to check out their selection of shells.

When children first pick up a large seashell, they often hold it up to their ears to listen for the sounds of the ocean. If you have tried this, you know that it actually works. Regardless of how far away you are from the ocean, it seems like you can hear the calming sounds of the waves crashing onto the beach when you hold a shell to your ear.

Obviously, the ocean is not actually inside the shell. So, what exactly are you hearing? If it is not the ocean, then what is it?

One common misconception that many people believe is that when you hold a shell up to your ear, you are hearing the echo of the blood flowing through your blood vessels in your head. This explanation may sound plausible, but scientists have proven that the sound you hear is not the echo of your blood flow.

Others think that what you hear is the sound of air passing through the shell. However, scientists have also disproven this theory. When shells were tested in a soundproof room, where there is still air flow, they did not produce the same “ocean” sound.

So, what is the actual sound you hear? Scientists believe that the most likely answer is that it is the echo of the ambient noise in the air around you. They refer to this as ambient noise. The seashell captures the ambient noise, which then resonates inside the shell.

Depending on the size and type of shell you listen to, different frequencies of sound will be echoed back to your ear. This results in different shells producing different “ocean” sounds. The best shells for this effect are large, spiral conch shells.

Would you believe that you do not even need a seashell to hear the “ocean” sound? You can achieve the same effect with an empty cup or by cupping your hand over your ear. It may be interesting to try this in a noisy environment. The more ambient noise there is around you, the louder the effect will be.

Give It a Try

Continue learning with the help of an adult friend or family member and the activities provided below:

Explore the Ocean with Seashells and Sound Waves

Do you want to experience the ocean through a seashell? If you have a seashell at home or have visited the ocean before, you’re in luck. Grab a seashell or any other object, like a cup or small pan, and hold it up to your ear. Can you hear the ocean’s soothing sound? Discuss with a friend or family member why you can or cannot hear the ocean.

To gain a deeper understanding of how sound travels, delve into the world of sound waves. How fast does sound move? What fascinating facts did you discover? Share your newfound knowledge with a friend or family member by writing them a letter or email about what you’ve learned.

If you’re eager to get hands-on with sound, try out one of these captivating sound science experiments. Remember to seek adult supervision and check the supplies list before starting!

Wonder Sources

  • (accessed 27 July 2020)
  • (accessed 27 July 2020)

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