Scientists have found that the ultrasonic ability of whales has a whole history behind it.
The extant toothed whales listen to echoes of their calls for navigation purposes and hunting for prey. This goes well with high frequency hearing.
Now researchers have reported in a study published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on August 4 that the preserved ears of an ancient whale show this ability to have arisen early on in its evolution. In fact, high frequency hearing may have appeared on the time scale earlier than echolocation.
Scientists have studied a novel fossil whales species known as Echovenator sandersi. This was found in a ditch in South Carolina. These researchers had CT scans taken of the ancient whale’s ear.
This was compared to two hippos and 23 whales (both extinct and extant). This study revealed a lot about dolphins too which can hear at ultrasonic levels.
The anatomy of the extinct whale’s ear shows that this feature began early onwards. The time was 27 million years ago on the time scale. These traits came before the toothed whales made their entry. The early ancestors of toothed whales heard at higher frequencies than their cousins, the land dwellers.
The inner ear of Echovenator is similar to the hearing organs of modern whales. There was probably a fast evolution of early whales as regards their hearing ability.
The species called Echovenator is known for a few other special traits too. It was a very small specimen when compared to others in its family of species.
A rapid change in body size took place throughout its evolutionary history. A number of biological variables ranging from cranium size to ecological niche were influenced with the passage of time.
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The Echovenator is just one such whale from South Carolina that is still being studied by researchers. It will yield a cornucopia of facts regarding the early whales and their remarkable hearing abilities.