What is Echolocation?

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Just like radar or sonar, echolocation refers to the production and use of sounds with ultra-high frequency for the purpose of navigation and location of prey. The term echolocation was coined by Donald Griffin, who was the one who demonstrated that bats make use of this method. Marine animals and bats use echolocation in order to ”see,” and the echoes that return somehow provide these animals with an image of their current environment. It is required that these echoes are loud and short enough at the same time, such that the echoes will return to the animal even before the next is sent.

Aside from bats, other examples of animals which make use of echolocation include whales and dolphins. Additionally, human beings were also able to learn this method of navigation and enable them to interact with their surroundings when they are visually impaired. Majority of bats sends out the sounds with the use of their mouths, while some use their noses. When the sounds bounce off from obstacles and prey that are present in the environment, these sounds are received by the sensitive ears of the bats. With this, the bats will be able to navigate and capture their prey more effectively.

Bats produce extremely high frequency pulses (around 200 pulses per second) that are inaudible to human beings. Aside from capturing food with the use of this method, bats can also determine the size of an object and dodge it. Just like bats, marine animals also use this method to locate prey, especially in the deep parts of the ocean where there are little to no light.

As mentioned, visually impaired people were also able to use echolocation to navigate by learning how to interpret the sound waves that bounce off from the nearby objects in the surroundings. Scientists found this to be possible because they discovered that the visual cortex in the brains of blind people can be activated through the stimulation of other senses. Generally, echolocation serves as a substitute to eyesight and an important method of survival.

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