Have you ever tried to go for a walk with your eyes closed? Though people can get pretty good at using their ears to compensate for their eyes, it can be difficult if you haven't had a lot of practice. Many animals rely on very specific sounds for communicating, locating and navigating. When an animal creates a sound to locate places, things or other animals, we call that
Echolocation is performed when an animal makes a sound and then waits for that sound to reverberate (bounce) off of surrounding objects.
Cetaceans—an order which includes whales, porpoises and dolphins—can judge how far away things are, by how long it takes for the sound to travel back to them. Echolocation makes it possible to travel towards food or friends and also to avoid bumping into anything disagreeable like a rock or a wall—which is probably pretty handy when you're as big as a whale.
Animals like whales and bats have very sensitive hearing and, in some cases, have body parts that produce sounds that can't be heard by the human ear. Bottlenose dolphins have bulbous foreheads, which we call melons, through which they emit a very large range of sounds, some of which are outside of the human audible range. They receive sound, or hear, through sound-conducting tissue in their lower jaw. Likewise, bat noses have special flaps called
noseleaves that produce noises that allow them to send sound in many directions at once at frequencies that can't be heard by human ears. By sending the sound in many directions, bats can get a better idea of their surroundings.
Cetaceans are very good at echolocation communication. Killer whales within a pod develop their own way of speaking and calling to each other. Cetaceans have a vast auditory range, but they can have a hard time hearing each other over all of the noise that humans make in the water. Currently, noise pollution isn't regulated in our oceans. In some areas, the water traffic can be so loud for aquatic life that it's equivalent to a person standing in front of a jet plane engine. With all of the ships, submarines, pile drivers and jet boats on the ocean, it's become more common for our flippered friends to get lost, go hungry or wash up on shore. It's important to consider noise pollution when it comes to ocean activities.
The WWF has more information about why ocean noise matters.
Practice you're echolocation skills and perfect a unique dialect for your pod with these Echolocation Resources:
Ocean Connections: Orcas
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