Echolocating toothed whales use ultra-fast echo-kinetic responses to track evasive prey

Heather Vance*, Peter T Madsen, Natacha Aguilar de Soto, Danuta Maria Wisniewska, Michael Ladegaard, Sascha Hooker, Mark Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Visual predators rely on fast-acting optokinetic responses to track and capture agile prey. Most toothed whales, however, rely on echolocation for hunting and have converged on biosonar clicking rates reaching 500/s during prey pursuits. If echoes are processed on a click-by-click basis, as assumed, neural responses 100× faster than those in vision are required to keep pace with this information flow. Using high-resolution biologging of wild predator-prey interactions, we show that toothed whales adjust clicking rates to track prey movement within 50–200 ms of prey escape responses. Hypothesising that these stereotyped biosonar adjustments are elicited by sudden prey accelerations, we measured echo-kinetic responses from trained harbour porpoises to a moving target and found similar latencies. High biosonar sampling rates are, therefore, not supported by extreme speeds of neural processing and muscular responses. Instead, the neurokinetic response times in echolocation are similar to those of tracking responses in vision, suggesting a common neural underpinning.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere68825
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2021


  • Research Article
  • Ecology
  • Echolocation
  • Biosonar
  • Harbour porpoise
  • Blainville's beaked whale
  • Predator-prey interactions
  • Response latency


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