Adaptive Value

Echolocation gives a great advantage to odontoceti that would otherwise be less able to detect prey while foraging or other objects while navigating. Vision is extremely limited both in shallow, turbid waters and deeper pelagic zones where most light is absorbed and thus another means of detecting prey is necessary (Miller, 2004).

Even with echolocation, toothed whales still run into problems.  Every so often whales get stranded or beached on land when the come too close to shore.  Scientists hypothesize that echolocation is the cause of these problems.  Sound waves don’t travel as well in shallow water as they do in deep water.  The slope of the shore could also be reflecting the sound waves up instead of back at the whale.  These two factors would make the shore invisible to echolocating whales.

Many people are concerned that whales will suffer from increasing noise pollution given off by boats.  Human production and use of low-frequency underwater sound has increased due to commercial shipping traffic and recreational boating. Engine-generated noise could impact whales' navigation and their ability to find food.  Noise pollution might lead ultimately to the loss of breeding, calving or feeding habitats (
Barrett-Lennard, 1996).