How do whales hear? Do they have ears like humans?

How do whales hear? They generally listen to sounds through unique structures in their jawbones or by echolocation. As the largest mammals in the sea, it may surprise you that whales rely solely on their hearing for communication and navigation. To understand more about this unique sense of hearing, it’s important to look at how sound travels underwater and why whale echolocation is so effective.

In this blog post, we’ll explore these topics and dive into some interesting facts about our ocean friends’ senses of hearing. Read on to learn more!

Here’s the answer: How do whales hear?

Whales are divided into two groups: baleen whales and toothed whales. One of the main distinctions between them is their specialization in underwater hearing.

How Do Whales Hear

How do toothed whales hear?

To better hear the ultra-sonic sound, toothed whales’ ears have evolved with structures specifically designed for detecting high-pitched sounds.

They have a specialized organ known as the ‘melon’ located in their bulbous forehead, which helps them detect and orientate to sound waves transmitted through the water. Whales ingeniously recycle air through their intricate nasal passage, emitting a high-pitched noise broadcasted into the environment via its melon.

They transmit sound through the melon and receive information from any echoing sounds that come back. This allows them to accurately sense what is around them, and this process is called “echolocation.” Toothed whales also use echolocation to detect their prey.

How do baleen whales hear?

Baleen whales have the remarkable ability to vocalize and detect infrasonic sound frequencies. These incredibly low-pitched sounds can easily span extensive distances and even reach distant corners of a vast ocean basin! This allows them to communicate across large geographic areas.

Baleen whales do not possess the “melon” organ as toothed whales do; therefore, they are thought to use a different method for echolocation. Baleen whales rely on fatty pads in their jaws that act like ears to sense sound through vibrations in the water. These unique structures enable them to detect low-frequency sound waves that toothed whales cannot. 

These whales are famous for their beautiful songs. The ethereal sounds that baleen whales create are essential to their social lives, enabling them to stay connected with the other group members over vast stretches of the ocean.

Humpback whales can create various vocalizations, from moans and grunts to blasts and shrieks. All these sounds are generated by sound waves. They would look like high, pointed mountains if you could see them!

Try their beautiful songs here and more here.

How Do Whales Hear

Do whales have ears?

Whales possess ears, including external auditory canals, although their hearing capabilities remain questionable – just like cetaceans. Whales also have a uniquely-structured sound system that helps them hear and communicate underwater.

How far can whales hear?

The sound waves that whales detect can travel extremely far distances, especially in deep water. Whales emit broad, low-frequency sound waves – like far-apart hills – that can travel immense distances in the water without losing energy. Astonishingly, scientists speculate these sounds could traverse up to 10,000 miles through certain depths of the ocean! This is an incredible feat!

What sounds can whales hear?

Whales cancan hear various sounds, such as the noises produced by other whales and marine life, their vocalizations, and the noises made by boats, ships, and underwater structures.

Whales can also detect subtle changes in ocean temperatures and currents and skipper and clicker sounds (produced by other animals such as dolphins) that are emitted to navigate their way through the water. In addition, they can sense seismic activity, noise pollution, and other disturbances. 

Whales are extremely sensitive to sound, so they can be adversely affected by loud noises and other underwater disturbances. This is why protecting these amazing creatures from human-made noise pollution in their environment is so important.

Can whales hear humans?

Whales can hear human voices, although they cannot understand what is being said. Studies have shown that whales can detect the sounds of human activity from long distances away.

How Do Whales Hear


As you can see, whales don’t rely on external ears to hear as humans do – they have a unique process to detect sound in their environment. This allows them to be expert acoustic navigators, picking up and interpreting sound waves from great distances to aid their migrations. This process also helps them understand and communicate with each other. 

By better understanding how whales hear, we can also work to reduce noise pollution in the ocean that may be disruptive for these animals – something that every ocean-lover should strive for. 

See our article How many species of whales are there? To explore more about whales’ world.