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Modulation rate transfer functions from four species of stranded odontocete (Stenella longirostris, Feresa attenuata, Globicephala melas, and Mesoplodon densirostris)

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A Correction to this article was published on 29 April 2021

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Odontocete marine mammals explore the environment by rapidly producing echolocation signals and receiving the corresponding echoes, which likewise return at very rapid rates. Thus, it is important that the auditory system has a high temporal resolution to effectively process and extract relevant information from click echoes. This study used auditory evoked potential methods to investigate auditory temporal resolution of individuals from four different odontocete species, including a spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris), pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata), long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas), and Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris). Each individual had previously stranded and was undergoing rehabilitation. Auditory Brainstem Responses (ABRs) were elicited via acoustic stimuli consisting of a train of broadband tone pulses presented at rates between 300 and 2000 Hz. Similar to other studied species, modulation rate transfer functions (MRTFs) of the studied individuals followed the shape of a low-pass filter, with the ability to process acoustic stimuli at presentation rates up to and exceeding 1250 Hz. Auditory integration times estimated from the bandwidths of the MRTFs ranged between 250 and 333 µs. The results support the hypothesis that high temporal resolution is conserved throughout the diverse range of odontocete species.

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Auditory brainstem response


Envelope following response


Equivalent rectangular bandwidth


Equivalent rectangular duration


Fast Fourier transform


Modulation rate transfer function


Rate following response


Sinusoidally amplitude modulated


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Funding for this research was provided by the Sea World and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and the Office of Naval Research (grant no. 0014-08-1-1160 to P.E.N.). Funding for the research equipment was provided by Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (grant no. 00014-07-1-0705 to P.E.N.). The authors would like to thank the marine mammal trainers and staff at the Lisbon Zoo and Ocean Adventure, as well as the staff and volunteers at the Hawai‘i Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility for their assistance and support during this research. The authors would also like to thank Alexander Supin for his continuous assistance and thoughtful discussion. All research was conducted in compliance with University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa IACUC protocol #93-005-21 and conducted under NMFS permit #16053 to P.E.N. This is contribution no. 1709 from the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology. 

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Correspondence to Adam B. Smith.

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Smith, A.B., Pacini, A.F. & Nachtigall, P.E. Modulation rate transfer functions from four species of stranded odontocete (Stenella longirostris, Feresa attenuata, Globicephala melas, and Mesoplodon densirostris). J Comp Physiol A 204, 377–389 (2018).

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