A New Acoustic Portal into the Odontocete Ear and Vibrational Analysis of the Tympanoperiotic Complex
Cranford, Ted W.
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Global concern over the possible deleterious effects of noise on marine organisms was catalyzed when toothed whales stranded and died in the presence of high intensity sound. The lack of knowledge about mechanisms of hearing in toothed whales prompted our group to study the anatomy and build a finite element model to simulate sound reception in odontocetes. The primary auditory pathway in toothed whales is an evolutionary novelty, compensating for the impedance mismatch experienced by whale ancestors as they moved from hearing in air to hearing in water. The mechanism by which high-frequency vibrations pass from the low density fats of the lower jaw into the dense bones of the auditory apparatus is a key to understanding odontocete hearing. Here we identify a new acoustic portal into the ear complex, the tympanoperiotic complex (TPC) and a plausible mechanism by which sound is transduced into the bony components. We reveal the intact anatomic geometry using CT scanning, and test functional preconceptions using finite element modeling and vibrational analysis. We show that the mandibular fat bodies bifurcate posteriorly, attaching to the TPC in two distinct locations. The smaller branch is an inconspicuous, previously undescribed channel, a cone-shaped fat body that fits into a thin-walled bony funnel just anterior to the sigmoid process of the TPC. The TPC also contains regions of thin translucent bone that define zones of differential flexibility, enabling the TPC to bend in response to sound pressure, thus providing a mechanism for vibrations to pass through the ossicular chain. The techniques used to discover the new acoustic portal in toothed whales, provide a means to decipher auditory filtering, beam formation, impedance matching, and transduction. These tools can also be used to address concerns about the potential deleterious effects of high-intensity sound in a broad spectrum of marine organisms, from whales to fish.
The article of record as published may be located at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0011927
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