Fossils suggest highly specialized sounds whales use to communicate were not an early innovation
Early on, whale hearing may have been ho-hum.
Unlike today’s whales that specialize in making — and hearing — very high- or low-pitched sounds, early whales’ ears probably picked up noises somewhere in the middle, paleontologists Mickaël Mourlam and Maeva Orliac report June 8 in Current Biology.
Looking at CT scans of ancient whale ear bones allowed the researchers, from the University of Montpellier in France, to weigh in on a long-standing debate over the evolution of whale hearing. At the heart of the controversy is when whales got their super-hearing abilities. Those abilities allow today’s whales to chitchat long distance and use sound to locate prey with calls that fall under the radar of human ears.