Amphibious hearing in ringed seals (Pusa hispida): underwater audiograms, aerial audiograms and critical ratio measurements

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2015

The Journal of Experimental Biology

Ringed seals (Pusa hispida) are semi-aquatic marine mammals with a circumpolar Arctic distribution. In this study, we investigate the amphibious hearing capabilities of ringed seals to provide auditory profiles for this species across the full range of hearing. Using psychophysical methods with two trained ringed seals, detection thresholds for narrowband signals were measured under quiet, carefully controlled environmental conditions to generate aerial and underwater audiograms. Masked underwater thresholds were measured in the presence of octave-band noise to determine critical ratios. Results indicate that ringed seals possess hearing abilities comparable to those of spotted seals (Phoca largha) and harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), and considerably better than previously reported for ringed and harp seals. Best sensitivity was 49 dB re. 1 µPa (12.8 kHz) in water, and -12 dB re. 20 µPa (4.5 kHz) in air, rivaling the acute hearing abilities of some fully aquatic and terrestrial species in their respective media. Critical ratio measurements ranged from 14 dB at 0.1 kHz to 31 dB at 25.6 kHz, suggesting that ringed seals – like other true seals – can efficiently extract signals from background noise across a broad range of frequencies. The work described herein extends similar research on amphibious hearing in spotted seals recently published by the authors. These parallel studies enhance our knowledge of the auditory capabilities of ice-living seals, and inform effective management strategies for these and related species in a rapidly changing Arctic environment.

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