How Do Whales Use Echolocation?

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What is Echolocation?

  • Whales are one species that use echolocation to communicate and locate prey. Echolocation is the process of emitting sound and interpreting its vibration. Echolocation helps whales to navigate and see their environment even in dark, murky waters. Toothed whales and dolphins use a variety of vocalizations, as well as echolocation to communicate with other whales. They do so by emitting clicking sounds that bounce off prey or other objects. The process of echolocation allows toothed whales to use sound waves to locate items even at a distance. It helps them to locate objects in dark waters where sight would not be very useful. Echolocation also serves as a means of communication as well as navigation.

Echoes and Sound Waves

  • The whale produces a sound with its larynx and cavities that are connected to the blowholes. They produce a rapid series of clicks in a wide range of frequencies usually between 50,000 to 200,000 hertz range. Whales produce sound, listen for the echoes and then interpret them. The echoes are produced when sound waves bounce off of prey or other objects, allowing the whale to sense their location.

Interpreting Echoes

  • Whales and dolphins have a flat organ in the front of their heads referred to as a melon. It acts as a lens to focus sound waves into a narrow beam. The echoes are received in the lower jaw, which acts like a receptor. The echoes are then transmitted to the inner ear. The time lapse that occurs between the whale sound and the echo allows the whale to determine the distance of an object.

Seeing With Sound

  • There are over 60 species of toothed whales that use echolocation, as well as dolphins and bats. Even submarines use a method of echolocation. Whales use echolocation to see their environment. Basically, they see by sound. Through echolocation, whales can avoid predators and large objects, locate food, communicate with other whales and sense their environment all through the use of sound.

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