In a bid to help biologists better understand the aquatic environs of whales and how humans impact them, researchers from San Diego State University (SDSU) have completed a crucial examination of one ocean species.
Discover Magazine writes that the results “will help researchers better protect these massive mammals of the sea.”
Can You Hear Me Now?
Thanks to a large computed tomography (CT) machine used to scan solid-fuel rocket engines, SDSU scientists were able to analyze the interior of a deceased 11-foot young minke whale found beached years before.
Residing in oceans and seas limits the use of eye sight, so sea creatures who plum the deep depths of our earthly waters often rely on intricate methods of audio detection to decipher their environment.
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Scientists knew this to be the case, but just how this worked has remained a bit blurry. That is until the SDSU study was published and released at the American Association of Anatomists annual meeting during the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.
Using Their Heads
Discover Magazine writes that, “Unlike us, whales don’t really rely on their ear canals to pick up on sounds. When you’re surrounded by water, your whole skull becomes an antenna.”
While whales have ear canals, biologists believe that they do not use them like humans do. Instead, the large mammals use specialized inner and middle ear bones detached from the skull that help the whales determine where sounds are coming from.
Upon scanning the deceased minke whale, researchers learned that the whales were able to hear sounds of much higher frequency (10-40 kilohertz) than was previously thought. Their detection was best optimized for objects directly in front of the mammal.
The study also found that the frequency range attained by minke whales was perfect in detecting the communication frequency of killer whales, who prey on minkes. Scientists believe that minkes developed this ability through evolution.
Results of the research may also help humans limit the damage they may impart as they operate in the same environs as the whale.
Discover Magazine writes that “things like ship propellers and sonar fall within their hearing range and could potentially overwhelm the sounds they need to pay attention to in order to survive.”
Understanding this can help humanity make its interaction with marine animals and ecosystems less intrusive.
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