Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

False killer whales use acoustic squint to target prey

22.03.2012
False killer whales focus echolocation clicks

Hunting in the ocean's murky depths, vision is of little use, so toothed whales and dolphins (odontocetes) rely on echolocation to locate tasty morsels with incredible precision. Laura Kloepper from the University of Hawaii, USA, explains that odontocetes produce their distinctive echolocation clicks in nasal structures in the forehead and broadcast them through a fat-filled acoustic lens, called the melon.

'Studies by other people showed odontocetes have the ability to control the shape of the echolocation beam and it has always been assumed that they are using the melon to focus sound' explains Kloepper. However, no one had ever tested this directly, so Kloepper and her PhD supervisor, Paul Nachtigall, decided to tackle the question. They publish their discovery that false killer whales are able to focus their echolocation beams on targets in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org.

So, how did the team make this amazing discovery? Fortunately, the duo is based at the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii, which is home to Kina the false killer whale. Kloepper explains that Kina is extremely adept at working with marine biologists after decades of dedicated work by Marlee Breese and her training staff. On this occasion, Kina had been trained to recognise a 37.85-mm-wide cylinder with 6.35-mm-thick walls by echolocation, signalling that she had recognised the cylinder by touching a button in return for a fish reward. However, when Kina encountered other cylinders – with different wall thicknesses – she was trained to remain still before receiving her fishy prize. The team then selected two other cylinders to test her echolocation abilities:

one with much thicker walls (7.163mm) that Kina could detect with ease and another with only marginally thicker walls (6.553mm) that Kina had more difficulty distinguishing from the 6.35mm cylinder. Then, over a period of weeks, Nachtigall, Breese and Kloepper randomly presented the cylinders to Kina at distances ranging from 2.5 to 7m, while noting her success rate and recording the cross-sectional area of her echolocation clicks with an array of hydrophones located between her and the cylinder.

But there was a problem: the width of an acoustic beam is determined by the frequency of the sound. So how could the team tell whether a change in beam width was due to Kina focusing the sound or simply due to the physics of acoustics? They turned to statistician Megan Donahue. 'Using statistics, we can account for the natural relationship that exists between beam area and frequency', says Kloepper, allowing them to correct for the frequency-related beam width variation. Plotting the adjusted beam area against the distance to the target, Kloepper discovered that Kina's echolocation beam became wider when she was having difficulties distinguishing between the 6.553mm and 6.35mm cylinders and when the cylinders were more distant. The false killer whale was effectively 'squinting' and adjusting the size of her echolocation beam in response to the more difficult tasks.

But was she actually focusing on the objects, because the beam width seemed to be getting wider rather than focusing in? Kloepper realised that the beam only appeared wider at the cluster of hydrophones because the array was close to Kina. When she plotted the path of the acoustic beams as they emerged from the animal's melon and passed through the hydrophone array, it was clear that the beams that appeared widest at the hydrophones were focused furthest away while the narrowest beams must be focused on the nearest objects.

'This is the first time that someone created a basic design to show that there is differential focusing of the beam under different target and echolocation conditions', says Kloepper, who is keen to find out whether other species use Kina's focusing strategy.

IF REPORTING ON THIS STORY, PLEASE MENTION THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY AS THE SOURCE AND, IF REPORTING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A LINK TO: http://jeb.biologists.org/content/215/8/1306.abstract

REFERENCE: Kloepper, L. N., Nachtigall, P. E., Donahue, M. J. and Breese, M. (2012). Active echolocation beam focusing in the false killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 1306-1312.

This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to jeb.biologists.com is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT permissions@biologists.com

Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.biologists.com

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility
14.12.2017 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)

nachricht Guardians of the Gate
14.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests

14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective

14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility

14.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>