Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Why does the sea smell like the sea? © Getty Images

Why does the sea smell like the sea?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Give a lengthy sniff next time you visit the seaside, you will be taking in a variety of scents produced from within the ocean.

Asked by: Aline Smith, London

Advertisement

Saltwater by itself doesn’t have any smell, but the things that live in it certainly do. The rather stale, sulphury smell is dimethyl sulphide, produced by bacteria as they digest dead phytoplankton. At low tide, you’ll also smell chemicals called dictyopterenes, which are sex pheromones produced by seaweed eggs to attract the sperm. And on top of all this is the ‘iodine’ smell of the sea, which is actually the bromophenols produced by marine worms and algae.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.

Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content