Invention mimics humpback whale sounds

September 20, 2008 12:26:56 AM PDT
You've heard of the flute, the trumpet, the bassoon, but how about the shelltone? Draws a blank, right? Well, after today, they recognize the sound on San Francisco Bay.

On the calm water near Hyde Steet Pier, wildlife appeared to have it easy today. No wind, no rain. Just the inviting tones of two men attempting to commune with nature.

You know those scenes of tropical paradise, the ones where a guy stands on a beach and blows on a conch shell? Well, for Verne Bryant and Pierre Lavagne, this is the modern approximation.

"You just pinch the lips and blow," says Pierre.

Pierre calls his new invention a shelltone, and this, the West Coast debut, an intricate blending of polypropolene, inspired by nature, that comes in seven colors, sells for $99, and mimics the sounds of humpback whales. He will be making this music on whale watching trips this coming season.

"The important part is to give people a chance to see what whales are like. We will see them and make their sounds. I mean, I don't know if I want to call whales. What would I tell them?" wondered Verne.

In theory, the shelltone appears to be a novel concept, but let's consider the pragmatics. What if the humpbacks actually listen?

Remember Delta, Dawn, and their multi-week odyssey through the Sacramento River Delta -- the crowds, their concern, and the flotillas burning their fossil fuels? One's a party, two's a crowd. A pod could be a problem.

"The idea is to try to get close to what they sing with this instrument. It is more for the human being than it is being able to use it," says Pierre.

Perhaps, but one should not trifle because when man tickles nature, it tends to respond. With no whales around, the men reached out to a sea lion.

"I know he can hear because some of those sounds, he knows them," said Pierre.

Maybe, but can he dance to it?


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