Magazine article Geographical

Hearing in a Half-Shell

Magazine article Geographical

Hearing in a Half-Shell

Article excerpt

A staff member of Boston's New England Aquarium is standing on a platform above the aquarium's Giant Ocean Tank, clanging a pair of pipes together. While an excited crowd looks on, somewhere within the tank, Myrtle, a 250-kilogram green sea turtle, begins to stir. Moments later, she answers the call, breaking the surface and positioning herself in front of two speakers that have just been lowered into the water

Over the next half-hour, the aquarium staff alternates the speakers; emitting a low-frequency hum from one while keeping the other silent, and then switching them. To the delight of the crowd, Myrtle responds each time, swimming towards the speaker she believes to be emitting the noise, touching it with her mouth, and then returning to the starting point to receive a prize piece of squid.

At first glance, this may appear to be little more than a poor-man's version of a dolphin-jumping-through-a-hoop show. In reality, it is one of the world's most important hearing studies.

"Right now, we know virtually nothing about the hearing capabilities of sea turtles," says Kathy Streeter, curator of marine mammals at the aquarium. …

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