Have you ever wondered how other species communicate?
In the animal kingdom, there are many different ways to get messages across…even using sound to see!
For dolphins, it’s all about echolocation.
Ever heard of this phenomenon? Wondering how bats and Daredevil tie into all this?
Discover more in today’s Vox Daily!
The Many Facets of Communication
This might sound silly, but I once took a linguistics course in university because I wanted to know how animals talked to each other. Little did I know that I’d be traveling down a road of phonemes, direct and indirect objects, sentence structure and the like with only one page (just one page!) on primate communication. To my in-the-moment chagrin but ultimately, greater long term benefit, I became aware of the role each piece of the linguistic puzzle plays in creating meaningful communication between people.
Using Sound to See
All creatures, dolphins included, rely strongly on their senses to help them get by. In a roundabout way, dolphins also rely on sound to see.
This phenomenon is called echolocation.
According to Gizmodo, when a dolphin squawks, whistles or makes a clicking noise, they’re emitting sound to reveal hidden objects. Their sonar helps to find objects that would otherwise be hidden. One practical use of echolocation is to uncover prey. If you’re a hungry dolphin and you’re on the hunt for food, emitting a signal that reveals where dinner is can be mighty useful.
Whales, too, also make use of echolocation.
How Does Echolocation Work?
Unlike most mammals, science tells us that dolphins in particular have a very special brain when it comes to the marriage of sight and sound.
Most mammals can only process sound in their temporal lobe. That said, a dolphin’s temporal lobe and their brain’s primary visual region are connected by their auditory nerve. Did you catch that? A dolphin’s auditory nerve is wired to both their temporal lobe and their brain’s primary visual region! That’s pretty wild.
Who Else Uses Echolocation to Survive?
No doubt you’ve come across the saying, “blind as a bat.”
As you might have guessed, bats also use echolocation to get through. Bats emit noise and wait for the sound to bounce back to them to help navigate their course.
These creatures could not survive without echolocation, a form of biological sonar.
Echolocation in Pop Culture
Speaking of which, are you a Stan Lee fan?
If so, Marvel’s superhero, Daredevil, likely comes to mind. Before becoming Daredevil, the character Matt Murdock was previously sighted.
Murdock comes to be blinded by a radioactive substance, that, while destroying his sight, managed to enhance his other senses giving him the superhuman power to see through sound.
While researching, I found an article on the topic by Dwayne Godwin, a Professor of Neurobiology and Neurology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Godwin wrote about the science behind Daredevil and his superhuman ability to see through sound.
Godwin points out that Daredevil’s superhuman power relates more to echolocation than the other senses simply compensating for Murdock’s loss of sight.
Our journey into the world of echolocation doesn’t end there.
In an episode of Lee’s Superhumans reality show (the episode was called Electro Man), he featured Los Angeleno Juan Ruiz, a blind man who, like Daredevil, was able to use his sense of hearing to provide visual guidance.
In effect, those who are blind may also make use of echolocation to navigate a situation or otherwise enrich their experiences. Perhaps you can speak to this or know someone who can.
More on Echolocation
I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever it was that tweeted out Gizmodo’s post on echolocation as not only did it introduce me to this concept but also inspired me to learn about the science of sound. Gizmodo provides an amazing array of echolocation resources.
I’ve had a lot of fun looking over this section of their blog and encourage you to take a look if this topic appeals to you.
Are you interested in what I’ve explored today?
If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the science of sound.
Be sure to comment with any ideas for topics you’d like to see covered in this vein on Vox Daily.