Journal of Comparative Physiology A (2017)

DOI: 10.1007/s00359-017-1145-0


Hearing is the primary sensory modality for toothed whales, but it is not known at which age it is fully developed. For newborn calves, hearing could fill an important function in maintaining contact with the mother and to develop echolocation skills. We non-invasively measured the auditory brainstem response (ABR) in two neonate (age 1–4 days) and three adult harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). The stimuli consisted of clicks centred at 130 kHz, which is within the frequency band used for echolocation and communication in this species. The temporal pattern of the neonate ABRs was indistinguishable to the adult ones. There were no significant differences between calves and adults regarding hearing thresholds and ABR latencies. The ABR amplitudes were up to more than an order of magnitude larger in newborns than in adults, most likely due to the neonates’ smaller size. These results indicate that hearing is fully developed within a day after birth, which suggests that harbour porpoise neonates have the earliest hearing development of any mammal studied so far. This may be explained by the evolutionary pressures imposed by the aquatic environment for a rapid development of the key sensory system in harbour porpoises.