Baseline hearing abilities and variability in wild beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas)
Mooney, T. Aran
Quakenbush, Lori T.
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While hearing is the primary sensory modality for odontocetes, there are few data addressing variation within a natural population. This work describes the hearing ranges (4-150 kHz) and sensitivities of seven apparently healthy, wild beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) during a population health assessment project that captured and released belugas in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The baseline hearing abilities and subsequent variations are addressed. Hearing was measured using auditory evoked potentials (AEPs). All audiograms showed a typical cetacean U-shape; substantial variation (>30 dB) was found between most and least sensitive thresholds. All animals heard well, up to at least 128 kHz. Two heard up to 150 kHz. Lowest auditory thresholds, 35-45 dB, were identified in the range 45-80 kHz. Greatest differences in hearing abilities occurred at both the high end of the auditory range and at frequencies of maximum sensitivity. In general, wild beluga hearing was quite sensitive. Hearing abilities were similar to belugas measured in zoological settings, reinforcing the comparative importance of both settings. The relative degree of variability across the wild belugas suggests that audiograms from multiple individuals are needed to properly describe the maximum sensitivity and population variance for odontocetes. Hearing measures were easily incorporated into field-based settings. This detailed examination of hearing abilities in wild Bristol Bay belugas provides a basis for a better understanding of the potential impact of anthropogenic noise on a noise-sensitive species. Such information may help design noise limiting mitigation measures that could be applied to areas heavily influenced and inhabited by endangered belugas.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2014. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Company of Biologists for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Experimental Biology 217 (2014):1682-1691, doi:10.1242/jeb.093252.