Why Do Seashells Sound Like the Ocean


Whether you have been a beachgoer for a major chunk of your life or have only had the chance to get close to the sea much later in your life, you have got to admit that holding a seashell up to your ear and listening to the ocean sounds that it makes really is a magical experience. Depending on what variety of seashell you are holding close to your ear, the experience of hearing waves crashing inside a seashell can be wondrous. We examine the scientific reality behind this magical phenomenon.

1. Seashells amplify ambient sound

When you are at the beach or near the sea or in a very windy environment and you hold a seashell close to your ear, what you hear is not the sound of waves crashing INSIDE the shell but rather the amplified sound of the ocean as present in the air. Since seashells are great amplifiers of sound, they amp up the sea sounds already present in the air near the ocean.

2. Folks myth makes people believe that they are hearing the sea inside a seashell

Folk myth is a strange but powerful phenomenon. It can convince people that they are seeing UFOs when they see strange cloud formations and they even believe that strange water ripples in deep lakes have got to be a mysterious creature. Similarly, when people pick up the sound of the air circulating through a seashell as it is cupped against their ears, they automatically assume that the stories they have heard about seashells making ocean noises are true and do not go looking for alternative, scientific reasons for it.

3. People can hear their own body sounds when a seashell is cupped over their ears

The human ear has the ability to pick up sounds made by the rush of blood through itself and the movement of muscles etc. too when external, ambient noise is filtered out. The occlusion effect, i.e., hearing the sounds of blood flowing and muscles acting, is picked up by the ear when it is cupped by a seashell. Since folklore says that it is the ocean that you hear inside a seashell, people do not even consider the possibility that their ears may be picking up the sound of their own body when the shell blocks out ambient sound.