Why Can You Hear The Ocean When You Put A Seashell To Your Ear?

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If you ever took a trip to the beach and walked along a seashore, you’ve probably tried searching for seashells. You might even have collected and held a seashell to your ear to listen to the ocean’s sound. It seems like the ocean is just next to your ear, although it’s coming from the seashell like magic.

Amazing, right?

Now, you might be wondering whether what you’re hearing is actually the ocean. And how does that even work?

But what if I tell you it isn’t really the sound of the sea? Instead, it’s only a popular myth called Seashell resonance.

Seashell resonance is a widespread misconception that the ocean’s sounds can be heard through seashells, especially conch shells. 

So, if it’s not the sound of the ocean you’re hearing, what do you hear in the seashell?

It’s the ambient or background noise around you that the seashells have amplified. This works when the sound enters the shell’s opening, and these sounds bounce around inside the shell. This process is called resonance.

Think of the seashell as a resonator or a wind instrument, amplifying specific sound frequencies. That’s why the ambient noise around you is louder when the seashell is placed next to your ear. And the more ambient noise there is around you, the louder the sound will be.

The seashell’s size and shape also affect the sound you hear. Different shells highlight various frequencies, which makes different “ocean” sounds. (Just a suggestion, the best ones to use are large, spiral conch shells.) Seashell shapes increase the lower frequency sounds more, which is one of the reasons you think it sounds like a rumbling ocean.

But did you know that not only seashells can turn up the sounds we hear?

In fact, you can produce the same effect by simply placing an empty cup or bowl over your ear. You can even cup your hand over your ear, as our ears are shaped to make sounds around us louder. Make sure there’s some background noise present but not too loud before trying it.

Again, what you hear will vary depending on the size and shape of the object. The sound will also differ depending on the object’s distance and angle from your ear. 

Now, go ahead and try it!

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