Eric Montie; (inset) Adapted from E. Montie et al., The Journal of Experimental Biology, 214 (2011)

ScienceShot: 'Keep It Down!' Says the Pygmy Killer Whale

When you're a little lost whale, noisy areas can be a real problem. Whales use their hearing more than any other sense to navigate, so when two pygmy killer whales beached on a Florida shore, the marine hospital that rescued them gave them a free checkup. There, researchers performed CT scans of the whales' heads and reconstructed 3D models of their brains (inset) to better understand their hearing architecture. Next, they played high-frequency sounds at different amplitudes and carried out brain scans to pinpoint which brain regions were most responsive to loud noises. In their report, published today in The Journal of Experimental Biology, the researchers warn that noise pollution—as well as chemical pollution—could deafen whales. The findings might someday help rescuers test whether the lost cetaceans might be deaf before releasing them back into the wild.

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