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Killer Whale Microphone

July 27, 2011

An underwater microphone takes inspiration from the ears of killer whales.



Orcas lend engineers their ears…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the ocean, orcas – or killer whales — are top predators, and as a result, they’ve evolved top-notch hearing. Now, the ultrasensitive ears of orcas have inspired the design of an ultrasensitive, underwater microphone. Onur Kilic is an applied physicist at Stanford University. He and his colleagues looked at how orca ears respond to a wide range of sound frequencies while also withstanding the crushing water pressure deep in the ocean. Like an orca’s ears, their microphone fills with water to keep the pressure balanced inside and out.

ONUR KILIC (Stanford University):

We built something that can be used pretty much for any ocean applications. It can detect both the faintest and the loudest sounds at any depth.


The work was published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Kilic says the microphone could find many uses in ocean communication, navigation, and research. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.