Detection of whale calls in noise: performance comparison between a beluga whale, human listeners, and a neural network

J Acoust Soc Am. 2000 Jul;108(1):297-303. doi: 10.1121/1.429465.


This article examines the masking by anthropogenic noise of beluga whale calls. Results from human masking experiments and a software backpropagation neural network are compared to the performance of a trained beluga whale. The goal was to find an accurate, reliable, and fast model to replace lengthy and expensive animal experiments. A beluga call was masked by three types of noise, an icebreaker's bubbler system and propeller noise, and ambient arctic ice-cracking noise. Both the human experiment and the neural network successfully modeled the beluga data in the sense that they classified the noises in the same order from strongest to weakest masking as the whale and with similar call-detection thresholds. The neural network slightly outperformed the humans. Both models were then used to predict the masking of a fourth type of noise, Gaussian white noise. Their prediction ability was judged by returning to the aquarium to measure masked-hearing thresholds of a beluga in white noise. Both models and the whale identified bubbler noise as the strongest masker, followed by ramming, then white noise. Natural ice-cracking noise masked the least. However, the humans and the neural network slightly overpredicted the amount of masking for white noise. This is neglecting individual variation in belugas, because only one animal could be trained. Comparing the human model to the neural network model, the latter has the advantage of objectivity, reproducibility of results, and efficiency, particularly if the interference of a large number of signals and noise is to be examined.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer*
  • Noise
  • Sound Localization*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*
  • Whales