Acoustic pathways revealed: simulated sound transmission and reception in Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)
The finite element modeling (FEM) space reported here contains the head of a simulated whale based on CT data sets as well as physical measurements of sound-propagation characteristics of actual tissue samples. Simulated sound sources placed inside and outside of an adult male Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) reveal likely sound propagation pathways into and out of the head. Two separate virtual sound sources that were located at the left and right phonic lips produced beams that converged just outside the head. This result supports the notion that dual sound sources can interfere constructively to form a biologically useful and, in fact, excellent sonar beam in front of the animal. The most intriguing FEM results concern pathways by which sounds reach the ears. The simulations reveal a previously undescribed 'gular pathway' for sound reception in Ziphius. Propagated sound pressure waves enter the head from below and between the lower jaws, pass through an opening created by the absence of the medial bony wall of the posterior mandibles, and continue toward the bony ear complexes through the internal mandibular fat bodies. This new pathway has implications for understanding the evolution of underwater hearing in odontocetes. Our model also provides evidence for receive beam directionality, off-axis acoustic shadowing and a plausible mechanism for the long-standing orthodox sound reception pathway in odontocetes. The techniques developed for this study can be used to study acoustic perturbation in a wide variety of marine organisms.