Auditory masking in three pinnipeds: aerial critical ratios and direct critical bandwidth measurements

J Acoust Soc Am. 2003 Sep;114(3):1660-6. doi: 10.1121/1.1587733.


This study expands the limited understanding of pinniped aerial auditory masking and includes measurements at some of the relatively low frequencies predominant in many pinniped vocalizations. Behavioral techniques were used to obtain aerial critical ratios (CRs) within a hemianechoic chamber for a northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and a California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Simultaneous, octave-band noise maskers centered at seven test frequencies (0.2-8.0 kHz) were used to determine aerial CRs. Narrower and variable bandwidth masking noise was also used in order to obtain direct critical bandwidths (CBWs). The aerial CRs are very similar in magnitude and in frequency-specific differences (increasing gradually with test frequency) to underwater CRs for these subjects, demonstrating that pinniped cochlear processes are similar both in air and water. While, like most mammals, these pinniped subjects apparently lack specialization for enhanced detection of specific frequencies over masking noise, they consistently detect signals across a wide range of frequencies at relatively low signal-to-noise ratios. Direct CBWs are 3.2 to 14.2 times wider than estimated based on aerial CRs. The combined masking data are significant in terms of assessing aerial anthropogenic noise impacts, effective aerial communicative ranges, and amphibious aspects of pinniped cochlear mechanics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Air*
  • Animals
  • Cochlea / physiology
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology
  • Pitch Perception / physiology
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Seals, Earless / physiology*
  • Sound Spectrography*
  • Species Specificity
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*
  • Water


  • Water