Toothed whales use sonar to detect, locate, and track prey. They adjust emitted sound intensity, auditory sensitivity and click rate to target range, and terminate prey pursuits with high-repetition-rate, low-intensity buzzes. However, their narrow acoustic field of view (FOV) is considered stable throughout target approach, which could facilitate prey escape at close-range. Here we show that, like some bats, harbour porpoises can broaden their biosonar beam during the terminal phase of attack but, unlike bats, maintain the ability to change beamwidth within this phase. Based on video, MRI, and acoustic-tag recordings, we propose this flexibility is modulated by the melon and implemented to accommodate dynamic spatial relationships with prey and acoustic complexity of surroundings. Despite independent evolution and different means of sound generation and transmission, whales and bats adaptively change their FOV, suggesting that beamwidth flexibility has been an important driver in the evolution of echolocation for prey tracking.
Animal experimentation: The animals are maintained by Fjord&Belt, Denmark, under permits no. SN 343/FY-0014 from the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and 1996-3446-0021 from the Danish Forest and Nature Agency (under the Danish Ministry of the Environment). Their care and all experiments are in strict accordance with the recommendations of the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries (issuing the permit to keep the animals), the Danish Ministry of the Environment (permit for catching the animals) and the Danish Council for Experiments on Animals (always contacted for permits when appropriate - but in the case of this study such permit was not required).
- Russ Fernald, Reviewing Editor, Stanford University, United States
© 2015, Wisniewska et al
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Porpoises use a sophisticated sonar system to locate and track prey.