William & Mary Quarterly

3d ser., 71, no. 4
October 2014

Audio Digital Projects

A Political Ecology in the Early Spanish Caribbean

Molly A. Warsh

The short clip of the Reef Sample, recorded in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina by a team of marine ecologists from North Carolina State University, captures the remarkably loud soundscape of a modern oyster reef. The snapping and crackling noises are made by snapping shrimp; listening to this recording we can hear how Spaniards could have likened such noises to “hogs rooting for acorns.” Although the range and number of species that populated Venezuela’s sixteenth-century oyster reefs remain uncertain, the reefs were likely at least as loud as their modern successors. It is thus possible, as Spaniards alleged in the sixteenth-century trial over Luis de Lampiñan’s oyster dredge, that pearl fishing crews were able to identify oyster banks by listening for the telltale sounds of the reef habitats.

Off Reef Sample

Reef Sample