Morphometric Analyses of Ears in Two Families of Pinnipeds

TitleMorphometric Analyses of Ears in Two Families of Pinnipeds
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsMarsh, S. E.
Academic DepartmentBiological Oceanography
Date Published08/2001
UniversityMassachusetts Institute of Technology / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program
CityWoods Hole
Keywordsacoustic, auditory, binaural hearing, marine mammal, middle ear, morphometry, ossicles, pinniped, seal

Pinniped (seal and sea lion) auditory systems operate in two acoustically distinct environments, air and water. Pinniped species differ in how much time they typically spend in water. They therefore offer an exceptional opportunity to investigate aquatic versus terrestrial hearing mechanisms. The Otariidae (sea
lions and fur seals) generally divide their time evenly between land and water and have several adaptations; e.g. external pinnae, related to this lifestyle. Phocidae (true seals) spend the majority of their time in water; they lack external pinnae and have well developed ear canal valves. Differences in hearing ranges and sensitivities have been reported recently for members of both of these families [Kastak, D., Schusterman, R.J., 1998. Low frequency amphibious hearing in pinnipeds. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 1303, 2216-2228.; Moore, P.W.B., Schusterman, R.J., 1987. Audiometric assessment of northern fur seals, Callorhinus ursinus. Mar. Mamm. Sci. 3, 31-53.]. In this project, the ear anatomy of three species of pinnipeds: an otariid, the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), and two phocids, the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) and the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), was examined using computerized tomography (CT scans) and gross dissection. Three-dimensional reconstructions of the heads and ears from CT data were used to determine interaural dimensions and ossicular chain morphometrics. Ossicular weights and densities were measured conventionally. Results strongly support a canalcentric system for pinniped sound reception and localization. Further, true seals show adaptations for aquatic high frequency specialization.