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Blog: Whale tales

Paul Chai journeyed up the NSW coastline during the 2012 whale migrating season. Recount his trip.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Posted by: Wild About Whales | 05 July 2011 | 0 comments

Scientists have recently designed underwater microphones that could one day help track migrating whales. The microphones have been designed from a similar structure to the ears of killer whales and when used in conjunction with robots, can also help scientists complete specific tasks, like fix oil leaks and monitor particle contamination.

The widely used conventional underwater microphones (hydraphone) have very limited ranges of sensitivity and cannot perform well at great depths, because of the great amounts of pressure.

Now researchers have developed an ultra-sensitive hydrophone that can detect a wide spectrum of underwater sounds, from the weakest ones to those 100 million times stronger and can work at virtually any depth, no matter how high the pressure.

To design the new product, scientists (Kilic & team) analysed ears that had a reputation of hearing well underwater, such as those of killer whales, also known as orcas. The ears of orcas and humans are very similarly designed, both being based on thin membranes that wobble back and forth when hit by sound waves and turned into data that gets transmitted as electric impulses to the brain. Hydrophones use this same technique to transmit signal.

The new hydrophone could have an impact on a wide range of research, from sonar and studying marine populations to more exotic research in particle physics.

Kilic and his colleagues detailed their findings in the April issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

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