A hot-film anemometer system has been calibrated and evaluated for the measurement of sinusoidal water motions used in stimulating the mechanosensory lateral line system of a teleost fish. The response of the anemometer system to water motions created by a vibrating sphere was measured over a wide range of frequencies, intensities, and distances from the sphere. The amplitude response of the system to signals along the axis of sphere vibration was found to be linear over a 50-dB range for frequencies from 10-200 Hz, with the lowest end of the dynamic range (between 10(-8) and 10(-9) m) corresponding to physiological measures of best sensitivity in the lateral line system of the mottled sculpin, Cottus bairdi. The measured attenuation of the signal with distance was also linear over this frequency range out to distances of six times the radius ( = 3 mm) of the sphere and followed the predicted falloff rate for a dipolar source. The linear response of the anemometer system over a wide dynamic range encompassing the detection range of the lateral line system, and the match between predicted and measured motions at varying distances from a dipolar source, indicates that hot-film anemometry is a useful technique for measuring low-level, low-frequency signals likely to stimulate the lateral line system and other hydrodynamic detectors.