Something Strange and Terrible Is Happening to Mussels 

By Ria Misra on at

Do you enjoy eating mussels? Cool, same. Would it change your mind, though, if they were dying out due to horrifying macro-environmental trends?

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago has been comparing the shells of live mussels pulled from the Pacific coast today with historical shells, some of them thousands of years old. They’ve come to an alarming realisation: Mussel shells are getting thinner and thinner.

Shells collected that are over 1,000 years old are on average 27 per cent thicker than today’s shells, the researchers note in new paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Thick shells were the norm until about the 1970s, when shells were 32 per cent thicker than they are today. Then, things suddenly started to get thin fast.

The unsettling cause for the thinning shells is the rapidly acidifying waters of the Pacific Ocean. Essentially, the mussels are in the process of a slow dissolve in the acid bath they now spend their lives stewing in.

If the thought of being slowly consumed from all around as you swim isn’t quite horrifying enough, the researchers project that this is only the beginning of the bad news for yummy shellfish. With an ocean that’s only growing more and more acidic, we could easily see mussels—with their new brittle bodies—die out. [Royal Society B]