Echolocating animals reduce their output level and hearing sensitivity, presumably to stabilize the perceived echo intensity during target approaches. In bats this variation in hearing sensitivity is formed by a call-induced stapedial reflex that tapers off over time after the call. Here we test the hypothesis that a similar mechanism exists in toothed whales by subjecting a trained harbour porpoise to a series of double sound pulses varying in delay and frequency, while measuring the magnitudes of the evoked ABRs. We find that the recovery of the ABR to the second pulse is frequency dependent, and that a stapedial reflex therefore cannot account for the reduced hearing sensitivity at short pulse delays. Thus, we propose that toothed whale auditory time varying gain control during echolocation is not enabled by the middle ear as in bats, but rather by frequency dependent mechanisms such as forward masking and perhaps higher order control of efferent feedback to the outer hair cells.
- Received August 25, 2016.
- Accepted February 14, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
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