Blast injury in humpback whale ears: evidence and implications

TitleBlast injury in humpback whale ears: evidence and implications
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsKetten, D. R., J. Lien, and S. Todd
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue3 pt. 2
Date Published09/1993
Call NumberDRK6799
Keywordsacoustic trauma, anthropogenic sound, auditory pathology, blast, blast trauma, explosive trauma, hearing, hearing loss, hearing pathology, histopathology, humpback whales, impulse noise, marine mammals, megaptera novaeangliae, mysticetes, noise, noise exposure, temporal bones, trauma

To date, there is no published report of effects on marine mammal hearing from underwater explosions. External injuries consistent with inner ear damage have been found in dolphins subjected to Class C explosives, but often little change is seen in surface animal behavior near blast areas [Richardson et al., OCS MMS/90-0093 (1991)]. In this study, temporal bones from two humpback whales, which died following a 5000-kg explosion in Trinity Bay, Newfoundland [Lien et al., J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 94, 1849(A) (1993)], were harvested, preserved in formalin, scanned with 1-mm-high resolution spiral CT, decalcified, and sectioned at 20 ยต. Evidence of mechanical trauma was found in all four ears: Round window rupture, ossicular chain disruption, sero-sanguinous effusion of peribullar spaces, and dissection of the middle ear mucosa with pooled sera. In one animal, there were bilateral periotic fractures. These observations are consistent with blast injury reports in humans, particularly with damage to victims near the source who sustained massive, precipitous increases in cerebrospinal fluid pressure. There was no evidence that the pathologies found in these whales resulted from repeated barotrauma or chronic infection, and no similar abnormalities were found in control ears from humpbacks not exposed to blasts. While the results show whales, like other mammals, are subject to severe blast trauma, it remains unclear whether lower level stimuli induce temporary and/or acute threshold shifts in marine mammals.