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Migrating squid drove evolution of sonar in whales and dolphins, researchers argue
Date:9/5/2007

90 percent of all toothed whales. "What were the intermediate evolutionary steps that got whales down there""

Lindberg, a specialist in the evolution of marine mollusks, noted that cephalopods have migrated up and down on a daily "diel" cycle for at least 150 million years. At the time whales developed biosonar, nautiloids dominated the oceans. Lindberg and Pyenson propose that whales first found it possible to track these hard-shelled creatures in surface waters at night by bouncing sounds off of them, an advantage over whales that relied only on moonlight or starlight. This would have enabled whales to follow the cephalopods as they migrated downwards into the darkness during the day. Today, the largest number of squid hang out during the day at about 500 meters below the surface, though some go twice as deep. During the night, however, nearly half the squid are within 150 meters of the surface.

Over the millennia, cephalopod species in general - and especially shelled cephalopod species - fell as the number of whale species boomed, possibly because of predation by whales. Then, about 10 million years ago, the whales seem to have driven the nautiloids out of the open ocean into protected reefs. Lindberg said that the decline in nautiloid diversity would have forced whales to perfect their sonar to hunt soft-bodied, migrating squid, such as the Teuthida, which in the open ocean are typically two feet long or bigger and range up to the 40-foot-long giant squid.

"Whales didn't need to have a very sophisticated sonar system to follow the nautiloids, they could just home in on the hard part," Lindberg said. Only later , he added, did they "develop a complex system with finer resolution to detect and capture soft-bodied squid."

"Whales, like bats, developed a sensory system for seeing with sound, and every single toothed whale echolocates in a different way, just like how different bat species echolocate in different ways," Pyenson sa
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert

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