Exposure to intense sounds can cause a permanent or temporary hearing loss. Some anthropogenic sounds may cause temporary threshold shift (TTS), depending on a number of variables including the frequency and intensity of the sound, duration of exposure, etc. (see How do you determine if a sound affects a marine animal?). The physiological basis for TTS can involve reversible damage to the hair cells of the inner ear.
Fishes are susceptible to TTS. For example, fathead minnows experienced TTS after exposure to playback of boat engine noise at 142 underwater dB for 2 hours, whereas goldfish exhibited a TTS after exposure to 166-170 underwater dB of white noise for 10 minutes. In both studies, hearing returned to normal, but the length of time required for recovery varied as a function of the frequency of the sound and duration of exposure. It is likely that the actual sound level needed to produce TTS will vary widely, and even differ by species.
Physical hair cell damage has been observed in several fish species following exposure to intense sounds. Hair cells were lost in goldfish after exposure to white noise at 170 underwater dB for 48·hours and monitored for 8·days after exposure. Scientists found that the hair cell loss was accompanied by TTS. However, after 7 days hearing thresholds returned to normal and the damaged hair cells started to be replaced.
In contrast to the effects seen in the above studies, caged rainbow trout, channel catfish, and hybrid sunfish exposed to a US Navy SURTASS LFA sound source (maximum received level of 193 underwater dB) for 324 or 628 seconds did not show exposure-related damage in the inner ear and other tissues, while both rainbow trout and channel catfish (but not the hybrid sunfish, largemouth bass, or yellow perch) showed small TTS for several days after exposure.
Additionally, exposure-related damage was not observed when these fish were exposed to mid-frequency signals (maximum received level 210 underwater dB) for 15 seconds. The duration and level of exposure to sonar in this study were much longer than would be encountered by fish exposed to sonar in the ocean.
Similarly, in a study to test the effects of exposure to seismic airguns, devices used in geological exploration and search for oil and gas underwater, it was found that there was no damage to the ears of five different species of fish in the MacKenzie River Delta (Canada), although several species showed TTS that recovered within 18 hours of the exposure.
Many species, including humans, exposed to sounds longer and louder than those that result in TTS may experience permanent threshold shift (PTS). PTS occurs when hair cells die and are not replaced. In contrast, fishes, including sharks and rays, can replace hair cells lost as a result of exposure to intense sounds or ototoxic drugs. Moreover, fishes add large numbers of hair cells, as well as repair and replace damaged hair cells, throughout life. For example, a small Mediterranean hake may have 5,000 hair cells, whereas an adult may have 2 million. Lastly, regeneration is correlated with a functional recovery of hearing ability. As a consequence of the ability to repair and regenerate hair cells, the likelihood of PTS in fishes is considered to be very low.
- Determine if a sound affects a marine animal
- How do fish hear?
- Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active (SURTASS LFA) Sonar
- Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS) Studies
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