Echolocation primer

From: Erich Hoyt (
Date: Thu Feb 14 2002 - 07:27:43 EST

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Message text written by "Nes Espaldon"

Can you tell me more about echolocation?


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Echolocation is a special trait of animals such as dolphins and bats in
which the animal obtains an assessment of its environment through sending
and listening to sounds. The animal sends out sounds (often clicks) and
listens to the echoes as the sound waves reflect off different objects in
the environment. Through this process the dolphin or other animal can tell
the size, shape, kind of object, how fast it may be travelling.

Dolphin echolocation, or sonar, is much finer tool than man-made sonar used
on ships. This is partly because of the dolphin's ability to hear sounds
over a wide range of some 10 octaves and its ability to respond rapidly in
response. Because of the mobility of dolphins in water, they can examine
objects from different angles and aspects to obtain a detailed "sound
picture" of their world.

Most of this information comes from Whitlow Au's article in the new
Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (edited by Perin, Würsig and Thewissen,
Academic Press, 2002, pp. 358+). It has a lot more to say on this subject
and some great illustrations if you can get it at a university library.

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