Non anthropogenic deafness in marine mammals: Hearing that is going, going, gone

TitleNon anthropogenic deafness in marine mammals: Hearing that is going, going, gone
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsKetten, D. R., J. J. Arruda, J. O'Malley, S. R. Cramer, and J. A. Hammock
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Start Page2505
Date Published11/2008
Type of ArticleScientific
Keywordsanthropogenic, deafness, hearing loss, marine mammals, noise exposure

In humans, hearing is absent or diminished as a result of congenital defects, aging, noise exposures, traumatic events, and disease. Until concern arose about anthropogenic noise impacts on marine mammals, little was known about the mechanisms or incidence of marine mammal hearing losses. Over the past decade, we have gained substantial information from behavioral and electrophysiologic audiometres, in vivo imaging, and postmortem examinations. Dr. Sam Ridgway has been a pivotal element in these investigations, pioneering many of the techniques and facilitating broad collaborative studies. In this paper, the results of computerized tomographic and histologic studies of pinniped and cetacean ears, the majority of which Dr. Ridgway supplied, will be presented. The data show that marine mammals sustain precipitous and progressive hearing loss from multiple etiologies, including labyrinthitis, infestations, trauma, chronic multistage otitis, and presbycusis. In particular, older dolphins and seals develop degenerative pathologies (neural, hair cell, support cell loss, and demineralization) paralleling presbycusic changes in older humans. For captive cases, the distribution of inner ear pathologies will be compared with their premortem hearing curves to demonstrate the feasibility of back-projection hearing analyses on ears from noncaptive animals to better understand hearing status of wild populations. [Work supported by the ONR and the NIHNIDCD].