EleFact Friday: Hearing in Elephants and Mammals

Two weeks ago, we shared about an elephant’s ability to understand language and a very interesting question was raised: do elephants (or other animals, domestic or wild) experience hearing loss in the same way humans do? For today’s EleFACT Friday, we’ll take a closer look…or listen?

The science behind sound is fairly consistent across the board for all mammals: sound waves are transformed to neural impulses in the inner ear, which are then interpreted by the brain as sounds. Hearing loss in humans has been extensively studied and helps us understand hearing loss in other mammals, especially marine mammals. Loss of auditory detection depends on many factors: the hearing sensitivity compared to the intensity of the sounds that animals are exposed to, the frequencies, and the duration of exposure to sound. 

Marine mammals are easily studied as far as hearing tests go, and studies have shown that noises in our oceans not only have an impact on whale behavior, but also their abilities to hear properly. In marine mammals, auditory impairment is particularly detrimental to their echolocation techniques used to find food, navigate, and communicate – which requires almost perfect hearing ability. 

It has also been proven that companion animals can develop presbycusis, or hearing loss caused by older age. Mid to high frequencies are affected first, followed by progressive loss at all frequencies. Hearing-impaired mammals, including elephants, are more sensitive to low frequencies. It has also been said that deaf individuals are more sensitive to vibrations, like elephants and their ability to “hear” through their feet. Scientists have been hopeful that lessons taken from elephant anatomy and physiology could enhance the results of cochlear implants in deaf children. 

Like other things, it seems that questions about hearing in elephants is a difficult thing to study and provide exact answers for. It seems to be just another fascinating aspect that remains to be a bit of a mystery. 

Photo of Rana


  1. REPLY
    Carey says

    Thank you so much for teaching us, this is really interesting.

  2. REPLY
    Richard Chiger says

    Please quote more studies about hearing in elephants. I believe that the late Hezy Shoshani did some study on hearing in elephants. It is a very interesting subject.

  3. REPLY
    Diana Weyland says

    Yo quedé sorda de un oído debido a otoesclerosis y desarrollé sensibilidad a las vibraciones. Podía sentir las vibraciones de una persona que caminaba en un ambiente no muy lejano. La sordera me afectaba un oído solo. Además leía los labios y “escuchaba” las voces conocidas. Al operarme recuperé la audición y perdí las otras habilidades.

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