William & Mary Quarterly
The OI is an independent research organization sponsored by William & Mary.
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.