Fossils hold hidden clues to the evolution of whales’ incredible hearing

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#Fossil #WhalesFossils hold hidden clues to the evolution of whales’ incredible hearing : In the dark depths or the murky shallows of the ocean, it can be difficult to see obstacles, predators, or tasty prey. But orcas, porpoises, dolphins, and other toothed whales famously have a way to “see.”

The toothed whales, scientifically called odontocetes, use echolocation, emitting sounds and listening to how they echo back in order to map their surroundings. And those sounds they emit are at a particularly high frequency, a quality which adds finer details to their auditory map.

It turns out, these toothy marine mammals have had this special hearing for a remarkably long time. A team of researchers found that the inner ear of Echovenator sandersi, an odontocete that lived 27 million years ago, looked a lot like today’s toothed whales.

“What this shows is that you get fairly advanced echolocation and ultrasonic hearing abilities right at the base of the evolution of all these toothed whales,” study lead author Morgan Churchill of the New York Institute of Technology tells the Monitor in a phone interview.

This study doesn’t come out of nowhere, says Erich Fitzgerald, senior curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, who was not part of the study.