Marine mammals are beginning to understand how Navy sonar sounds affect their hearing or whether they hear them at all thanks to rocket science.
Science can now look inside a whale’s giant head using the same large industrial sized x-ray scanners NASA uses to find flaws in the space shuttle’s giant rockets. Dr. Ted Cranford, a marine biologist sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Chief of Naval Operations Environmental Readiness Division (N45), developed a breakthrough method to scan whale hearing anatomy in three dimensions.
To generate minute detail reproductions, Dr. Petr Krysl at UCSD combines advanced computing with large x-ray CT scanners and modern computing methods. In a simulation, sound interacts with whale’s hearing anatomy accurately. It’s called a “finite element model” or FEM. Additionally, it forecasts and analyses the incoming sound and describes how various characteristics combine to create movement through the ear.
According to Michael Weise from the ONR program, the simulation technology is useful for studying hearing in species that are not currently available for study, such as whales and fish. It can also be used for evaluating and directing mitigation measures.”
The 18th Biennial Biology of Marine Mammals Conference in Quebec, Canada, in October, awarded Cranford top honors for his presentation, “Knocking on the Inner Ear in Cuvier’s Beaked Whale”. Researchers are paying attention to this development as a credible and useful tool that is gaining widespread attention.
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