Comparative assessment of amphibious hearing in pinnipeds

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2013 Jun;199(6):491-507. doi: 10.1007/s00359-013-0813-y. Epub 2013 Apr 6.


Auditory sensitivity in pinnipeds is influenced by the need to balance efficient sound detection in two vastly different physical environments. Previous comparisons between aerial and underwater hearing capabilities have considered media-dependent differences relative to auditory anatomy, acoustic communication, ecology, and amphibious life history. New data for several species, including recently published audiograms and previously unreported measurements obtained in quiet conditions, necessitate a re-evaluation of amphibious hearing in pinnipeds. Several findings related to underwater hearing are consistent with earlier assessments, including an expanded frequency range of best hearing in true seals that spans at least six octaves. The most notable new results indicate markedly better aerial sensitivity in two seals (Phoca vitulina and Mirounga angustirostris) and one sea lion (Zalophus californianus), likely attributable to improved ambient noise control in test enclosures. An updated comparative analysis alters conventional views and demonstrates that these amphibious pinnipeds have not necessarily sacrificed aerial hearing capabilities in favor of enhanced underwater sound reception. Despite possessing underwater hearing that is nearly as sensitive as fully aquatic cetaceans and sirenians, many seals and sea lions have retained acute aerial hearing capabilities rivaling those of terrestrial carnivores.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Auditory Threshold*
  • Caniformia / physiology*
  • Caniformia / psychology
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Hearing*
  • Male
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Species Specificity