Joe Gaspard from the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, USA, explains that many factors put manatees at risk and it isn't clear why the animals are so vulnerable to human activity. For more than 14 years, Mote research has focused on how manatees use their senses to perceive their environment in an effort to understand the factors that put manatees at risk.
Their studies have already shown that manatees' vision is poor, compounded by the turbid and tannic waters where they spend much of their lives. But can manatees hear boats? And can they hear them above the cacophony of sounds in their natural environment? Sound is absorbed less in water than in air, potentially allowing it to travel farther. It also travels five times faster in water than in air, theoretically warning the animals earlier of an approaching threat, Gaspard said. Teaming up with Gordon Bauer, Roger Reep and David Mann, and a group of trainers from the aquarium, Gaspard tested the hearing of two resident manatees, Buffett and Hugh – the world's only manatees trained to participate in behavioural research and husbandry procedures – to find out what they are capable of hearing. The discovery, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org, indicates that manatees can hear within the frequency range where boats operate but lead to new questions about why manatees remain at risk.
'Buffett and Hugh are very cooperative and picked up on the elements of the study quickly', remembers Gaspard, who worked with Kim Dziuk, Adrienne Cardwell and LaToshia Read to train the animals to swim down to a listening station 1 m beneath the surface. Switching on a light to indicate to the animals that a test was about to start, the team then trained the manatees to touch a yellow response paddle in return for a tasty fruit or vegetable snack when they heard a sound. They also trained the manatees to stay in place (in return for another snack) when they heard nothing. Once Hugh and Buffett had got the task in hand, the team tested their hearing by selecting a particular sound frequency (pitch) and gradually lowering the volume of the sound until the manatee could no longer hear it. Plotting these 'hearing thresholds' on a graph, the team could see that the manatees had good hearing between 8 and 32kHz and could even hear sounds as low as 0.25kHz – so long as they were quite loud. However, they were even more amazed when Buffett appeared to be able to hear ultrasonic frequencies as high as 90.5kHz. 'Buffett did the task but refused to continue after the first round at that frequency, so we think it was aversive or annoying', Gaspard recalls.
Intrigued by the manatees' apparently sensitive hearing, the team then tested how well the mammals performed when the sounds were accompanied by background noise. Playing test tones – ranging from 4 to 32kHz – against background noise centered on the same pitch, the team recorded the difference between the volume of the tone and background noise when the manatee could no longer distinguish the tone. Plotting the critical ratio – the level at which the background noise swamped the manatee's hearing – against pitch for each animal, the team saw that the manatees struggled to hear lower and higher pitched sounds above background noise. However, their hearing was much sharper at 8kHz – the frequency at which manatees communicate – where they could still distinguish tones that were only 18.3dB louder than the background.So, it appears that manatees should be able to hear approaching motorboats above background noise — but it's much more difficult to know whether manatees can always focus on these sounds in nature, Gaspard says. 'Manatees might be less aware of these sounds when they are sleeping, eating or performing other activities related to their daily lives that require their full attention,' says Gaspard. "There are also a multitude of environmental factors that come into play. Understanding how animals use their various senses is a complex process. Could their sense of touch also be playing a role here? We are working on that question now."
REFERENCE: Gaspard, J. C. III, Bauer, G. B., Reep, R. L., Dziuk, K., Cardwell, A., Read, L. and Mann, D. A. (2012). Audiogram and auditory critical ratios of two Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris). J. Exp. Biol. 215, 1442-1447.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Oestrogen regulates pathological changes of bones via bone lining cells
28.07.2017 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Programming cells with computer-like logic
27.07.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard
Spectrally narrow x-ray pulses may be “sharpened” by purely mechanical means. This sounds surprisingly, but a team of theoretical and experimental physicists developed and realized such a method. It is based on fast motions, precisely synchronized with the pulses, of a target interacting with the x-ray light. Thereby, photons are redistributed within the x-ray pulse to the desired spectral region.
A team of theoretical physicists from the MPI for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg has developed a novel method to intensify the spectrally broad x-ray...
Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.
Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
28.07.2017 | Health and Medicine
28.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
28.07.2017 | Life Sciences