The ordinary squid, Loligo pealiibest known until now as a kind of floating buffet for just about any fish in the seamay be on the verge of becoming a scientific superstar, providing clues about the origin and evolution of the sense of hearing.
In a hangar-like research building at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), biologist T. Aran Mooney is exploring virtually uncharted waters: Can squid hear? Is their hearing sensitive enough to hear approaching predators? How do squid and other marine species rely on sound to interact, migrate, and communicate? Will the burgeoning cacophony of sound in the ocean disrupt marine life's behavior and threaten their survival?
"The sound in the ocean is increasingcommercial shipping, oil and gas explorationthose make a lot of noise," Mooney says. "And you don't know how that is going to affect the animal unless you know what it hears."
Mooney, a postdoctoral scholar at WHOI, has undertaken seminal investigations into the hearing of this seminal creature in the marine food web. His study is published Friday, Oct. 15, in the Journal of Experimental Biology
"Almost every type of marine organism feeds somehow off the squid," says Mooney. Not just fish, but also many birds, seals, sea lions, and dolphins and toothed whales depend heavily on squid. Whales, according to Mooney, consume some 320 metric tons of squid a year; people eat another 280 metric tons annually.
Mooney says it may be the squid's role as a predator's entre that holds the key to understanding the importance of hearing among squid and other ocean creatures. This is because predator avoidance is a key pressure for evolving hearing capabilities. If you can hear your predators approaching, you have a better chance of avoiding them. Eventually, he said, a better understanding of how squid hear may shed light on human hearing as well.
Despite their importance in the marine food web, little is kn
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution