The ionized Ca2+ concentration in cochlear endolymph is normally extremely low. Previous studies have shown that endolymph Ca2+ levels become elevated when measured at long intervals after endolymphatic hydrops is surgically induced. The present study was designed to investigate how rapidly endolymph Ca2+ increases following endolymphatic duct ablation. Hydropic animals were tested at either 4 days, 4 weeks, 8 weeks or 16 weeks after surgery. In each animal endolymph Ca2+ and endocochlear potentials were measured in all four cochlear turns using double-barreled Ca(2+)-sensitive electrodes. Cochlear sensitivity was assessed using compound action potential thresholds. Our results confirm that hydropic animals show an elevation of endolymph Ca2+ and a reduction of EP which is initially small, but becomes more pronounced at longer times after surgery. At 16 weeks endolymph Ca2+ was increased by an average factor of 20 in the basal turn and 7.5 in the fourth turn. These findings suggest that endolymph Ca2+ changes may not be the primary factor responsible for hydrops generation, but probably contribute to cochlear dysfunction in later phases of hydrops. For some experimental groups, the elevation of AP threshold was more closely correlated with endolymph Ca2+ level than it was with endolymph volume. Endolymph Ca2+ changes must therefore be considered in order to account for dysfunction in the hydropic cochlea.