A New Study Shows The Possible Origins Of Echolocation Use

Whale echolocation infographic. Sperm whale using biosonar to locate prey. by istock

A New Study Shows The Possible Origins Of Echolocation Use

A new research sheds fresh information on how toothed dolphins and whales developed the ability to navigate underwater using echolocation.

While the specific process by which these species developed this extraordinary built-in sonar is unknown, a recent study demonstrates how this may have occurred.

Because of an imbalance in the internal components surrounding their blow hole, animals with this capacity may use sonar. This asymmetry allows the animals to produce sound and, with a lower jawbone loaded with fat, gives directional hearing skills, enabling them to discern direction precisely.

Researchers discovered two ancient dolphin species that existed 25-30 million years ago in the fossil record. These represent an evolutionary stage in the development of echolocation in these species. The evidence suggests that, although the species was not as capable of making high-pitched noises as its current relatives, it did have pretty well-developed listening abilities.

According to the study’s first author, paleontologist and research associate Robert Boessenecker of the University of California Museum of Paleontology:

“While this asymmetry is seen in other ancient whales, Xenorophus displays the strongest of any whale, dolphin, or porpoise, living or extinct. In addition, although the blowhole-focused asymmetry in today’s odontocetes can be traced back to Xenorophus and other relatives, the twisting and shifting of the snout is no longer seen today. This suggests that Xenorophus is a crucial puzzle piece in understanding how whales and dolphins evolved their echolocation abilities.”

According to Jonathan Geisler, co-author of the research and professor and head of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology:

“Biological symmetry, or the mirror-imaging of body parts across anatomical planes, is a major feature in the evolutionary history of animals and humans. However, our research shows the important role of asymmetry in adapting to different environments and that asymmetry should be closely investigated in fossils instead of being dismissed as individual variation or assumed to be caused by geological distortion.”

The original study may be found here.

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