Hearing in cetaceans: from natural history to experimental biology. Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Sound is a primary sensory cue for most marine mammals, and this is especially true for cetaceans. To passively and actively acquire information about their environment, cetaceans have some of the most derived ears of all mammals, capable of sophisticated, sensitive hearing and auditory processing. These capabilities have developed for survival in an underwater world where sound travels five times faster than in air, and where light is quickly attenuated and often limited at depth, at night, and in murky waters. Cetacean auditory evolution has capitalized on the ubiquity of sound cues and the efficiency of underwater acoustic communication. The sense of hearing is central to cetacean sensory ecology, enabling vital behaviours such as locating prey, detecting predators, identifying conspecifics, and navigating. Increasing levels of anthropogenic ocean noise appears to influence many of these activities. Here, we describe the historical progress of investigations on cetacean hearing, with a particular focus on odontocetes and recent advancements. While this broad topic has been studied for several centuries, new technologies in the past two decades have been leveraged to improve our understanding of a wide range of taxa, including some of the most elusive species. This chapter addresses topics including how sounds are received, what sounds are detected, hearing mechanisms for complex acoustic scenes, recent anatomical and physiological studies, the potential impacts of noise, and mysticete hearing. We conclude by identifying emerging research topics and areas which require greater focus.

publication date

  • 2012