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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Colorectal cancer: Increased life expectancy thanks to individualised therapies
20.02.2020 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Sweet beaks: What Galapagos finches and marine bacteria have in common
20.02.2020 | Max-Planck-Institut für Marine Mikrobiologie
The operational speed of semiconductors in various electronic and optoelectronic devices is limited to several gigahertz (a billion oscillations per second). This constrains the upper limit of the operational speed of computing. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg, Germany, and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay have explained how these processes can be sped up through the use of light waves and defected solid materials.
Light waves perform several hundred trillion oscillations per second. Hence, it is natural to envision employing light oscillations to drive the electronic...
Most natural and artificial surfaces are rough: metals and even glasses that appear smooth to the naked eye can look like jagged mountain ranges under the microscope. There is currently no uniform theory about the origin of this roughness despite it being observed on all scales, from the atomic to the tectonic. Scientists suspect that the rough surface is formed by irreversible plastic deformation that occurs in many processes of mechanical machining of components such as milling.
Prof. Dr. Lars Pastewka from the Simulation group at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg and his team have simulated such...
Investigation of the temperature dependence of the skyrmion Hall effect reveals further insights into possible new data storage devices
The joint research project of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that had previously demonstrated...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently completed a 5-year research project looking at how to make fibre optic communications systems more energy efficient. Among their proposals are smart, error-correcting data chip circuits, which they refined to be 10 times less energy consumptive. The project has yielded several scientific articles, in publications including Nature Communications.
Streaming films and music, scrolling through social media, and using cloud-based storage services are everyday activities now.
After helping develop a new approach for organic synthesis -- carbon-hydrogen functionalization -- scientists at Emory University are now showing how this approach may apply to drug discovery. Nature Catalysis published their most recent work -- a streamlined process for making a three-dimensional scaffold of keen interest to the pharmaceutical industry.
"Our tools open up whole new chemical space for potential drug targets," says Huw Davies, Emory professor of organic chemistry and senior author of the paper.
12.02.2020 | Event News
16.01.2020 | Event News
15.01.2020 | Event News
21.02.2020 | Medical Engineering
21.02.2020 | Health and Medicine
21.02.2020 | Physics and Astronomy