Do Whales Have Ears?

Yes whales do have ears that are specially designed for underwater hearing.

In fact whales have a very acute sense of hearing and rely heavily on sound to navigate the ocean, find food, keep track of their children and communicate a number of other things to one another such as a desire to mate, to alert others when there is nearby danger or to acknowledge to their pod when they have found a large supply of fish.

Since sound travels four times faster in water than it does on land it gives whales with their highly attuned sense of hearing a big advantage in the aquatic world.

Various whale species are able to hear different frequencies than humans and many species are able to listen to sounds that have occurred several miles away.

Not only do whales receive sound through their ears they may also receive it through their skull and jaw which helps sound travel to the whales ear bone for improved listening and frequency range.

In addition to this toothed whales are able to use a technique known as echolocation which allows the whale to bounce sounds off of objects in the environment and gain information from the echo that returns to them such as the distance of an object, how fast its moving, how large it is and whether it is dense or hollow.

Over the decades many man-made ambient noises such as sonar (from submarines), loud boat engines noises, explosives and loud aircraft have become more and more common raising a big concern regarding the whales ability to survive in its environment.

These sounds have made it difficult for whales to rely on their hearing or echolocation to pinpoint potential prey and navigate the often pitch-black ocean.

Some of these concerns include the possibility of stranded beached whales due to difficulty navigating the ocean or distractions caused by these noises, permanent damage to tearing and hemorrhaging near the whales ear and brain tissue, possible decompression sickness from raising to the surface too quickly and difficulty locating food because of ambient interruption during the use of echolocation.

In addition to whales, dolphins and porpoises also have excellent hearing.

In fact all three suborders are marine mammals are and part of the cetacean family, therefore they share many of the same characteristics with one another such as being-warm blooded, producing milk, giving birth and breathing air.

While all species of dolphin and porpoise (all species belong to the toothed whale suborder) are known to posses echolocation researchers are unsure whether or not this exists among the baleen whale species.

Even if some or all of the baleen whales lack echolocation their excellent hearing is still extremely important and vital to their survival.

Lastly, a number of whale species have excellent eyesight and rely heavily on their vision to navigate the ocean and search for prey in areas that have sufficient lighting.

By combining excellent hearing with echolocation and good vision whales are extremely effective at thriving and surviving in the ocean.