Japanese Scientists Listen to Oysters, Pick Up Pearls of Wisdom

Put a shell to your ear and you can hear the ocean. Japanese scientists have taken that concept to a higher level, inventing a device called the “kai-lingual” (above) that can “hear” oysters commenting on their environment. Well shucks!

Kai-lingual is a Japanese/English play on words, as “kai” is Japanese for “shell”. The device, invented by researchers at Kagawa University, uses sensors and magnets to monitor the way oysters open and close their shells in response to different environmental conditions. And wouldn't you know it, the oysters aren't exactly happy as clams.

“With kai-lingual, we can hear the 'screams,' like 'we are in pain because of insufficient oxygen,'” said Tsuneo Honjo, director of the Seto Inland Sea Regional Research Center at Kagawa University. Fair enough, but I'd probably be screaming the same thing if I was cemented to the seafloor.

Why bother trying to learn the language of oysters? Well, a happy oyster is a healthy oyster and healthy oysters are what aquaculture firms want in their oyster farms. Trouble is, all oysters are not alike: it seems pearl oysters are more, er, expressive than oysters farmed for food. Honjo's solution is to use kai-lingual to eavesdrop on a small number of pearl oysters interspersed among their more reticent relatives. In effect, the pearl oysters act as “interpreters”.

“We have firmly established conversations with pearl oysters through years of research,” confirms Honjo, who seems to be sort of a Doctor Doolittle on the half-shell. “They should translate into the reactions of the farmed oysters for us in this project. So far, oysters are talking in a healthy fashion.” (via Japan Today, Couriermail, and Kyodo News)