An international team of researchers has developed an approach that integrates advanced computing, X-ray CT scanners, and modern computational methods that give a 3D simulated look inside the head of a Cuvier's beaked whale, in a bid to understand the effects of noise pollution on marine life better.
San Diego State University, UC San Diego, and Kolmarden Zoo (Sweden) experts have conducted the study.
"We believe that our research can enable us to understand, and eventually reduce, the potential negative effects of high intensity sound on marine organisms," said Petr Krysl, a UC San Diego structural engineering professor.
"The primary focus of our work is Cuvier's beaked whale because some have stranded and died in the presence of Navy sonar. The discoveries we made with regard to the mechanisms of hearing in the beaked whale also apply to the bottlenose dolphin and, we suspect, to all types of toothed whales and perhaps other marine mammals," he added.
The research has identified mechanical parameters of the biological tissues in the organs of a beaked whale. The team will now investigate the entire sound pathway from the seawater to the entrance to the cochlea.
"These projects address several primary objectives in the Navy's plan to understand demographics, acoustic exposure thresholds, and mitigation strategies for living marine resources," Krysl said.
"Hearing is an essential sensory ability for life under water - sound is used for hunting, navigating, and social interaction. The applied significance of our research has to do with the Navy's need to use sonar.
Consequently, the Navy needs to be able to answer questions such as, 'Is sonar safe to use and under what conditions?' and 'Can we minimize the impact on marine life and how?' This is not possible without a basic understanding of biology and acoustics of the ocean inhabitants," he concluded.
The results of this research were recently published in a PLoS ONE article entitled, "A New Acoustic Portal into the Odontocete Ear and Vibrational Analysis of the Tympanoperiotic Complex".