Insights into dolphin sonar discrimination capabilities from human listening experiments

J Acoust Soc Am. 1989 Nov;86(5):1662-70. doi: 10.1121/1.398596.


A variety of dolphin sonar discrimination experiments have been conducted, yet little is known about the cues utilized by dolphins in making fine target discriminations. In order to gain insights on cues available to echolocating dolphins, sonar discrimination experiments were conducted with human subjects using the same targets employed in dolphin experiments. When digital recordings of echoes from targets ensonified with a dolphinlike signal were played back at a slower rate to human subjects, they could also make fine target discriminations under controlled laboratory conditions about as well as dolphins under less controlled conditions. Subjects reported that time-separation-pitch and duration cues were important. They also reported that low-amplitude echo components 32 dB below the maximum echo component were usable. The signal-to-noise ratio had to be greater than 10 dB above the detection threshold for simple discrimination and 30 dB for difficult discrimination. Except for two cases in which spectral cues in the form of "click pitch" were important, subjects indicated that time-domain rather than frequency-domain processing seemed to be more relevant in analyzing the echoes.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Dolphins / physiology*
  • Echolocation*
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Orientation*
  • Sound Localization*