The ocean is home to 49 species of dolphins that are broken into smaller groups based on their physical characteristics: oceanic dolphins’ family contain 38 species; the porpoise family has 7 species and then there are 4 other distinct species of dolphins.
As different as each group is from the other, there is one that all dolphins have in common— their unique sense of hearing. You see, dolphins don’t hear things the way we do; they rely on a hearing mechanism called SONAR and echolocation.
SONAR and echolocation are a lot more sophisticated than other hearing methods. Dolphins have a wider hearing range than most species that enables them to hear sound frequencies that others can’t process.
Dolphins don’t have external ears, but they have small ear openings on the sides of the heads through which they hear sounds. They use these openings to listen to sounds when they’re above water. Their underwater hearing mechanism is slightly more complex.
Dolphins use their lower jawbone to transmit sounds to the middle ear. They use these sounds to communicate amongst themselves and to locate organisms and objects underwater. There’s also some evidence that suggests that dolphins actually “talk” and have managed to assign meaning to certain sounds.
When underwater, dolphins rely on echolocation, the same way whales do. Through echolocation, dolphins can determine the presence of objects and other organisms floating around nearby.
Dolphins create a high-pitched pulsing or clicking sound in their foreheads that convert into sound signals in the water. When the sound waves bounce off objects and organisms in the water, dolphins and whales can determine their location.
As the sound vibration bounces back the dolphins, it generates a pulsing sensation in their lower jaws. Every object or animal in the water generates distinct echoes so dolphins know whether or not it poses any danger to them. Not only can dolphins find out the location of an object/organism in the water, but they can also tell its size, shape and texture!
Echolocation is a far more superior hearing mechanism than what most animals (including humans) use; the sound is transmitted at a speed that is 5 times faster through echolocation than it does in air.
Dolphins rely on echolocation to communicate with one another, determine the position of possible predators and locate food.
SONAR works similarly to echolocation; it’s what dolphins use in murky waters. Dolphins create two types of sounds: high-pitched whistles or a rattle/clicking noise. When it’s dark and murky underwater, dolphins use rattling/clicking sounds that are better known as SONAR.
Like many other aquatic mammals, dolphins too are under threat from toxic contamination, habitat degradation and climate change.
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