Dec 2017 Science

Instead of wearing earplugs at a rock concert, imagine you could simply tune a dial inside your ears to lower the volume—and protect your hearing. Four species of whales and dolphins can do this naturally, new research reveals. This could potentially allow the animals to shield themselves from the cacophony of Navy sonar and oil drilling, which has been linked to at least 500 marine mammal deaths since 1963. “The finding is groundbreaking and will open up numerous lines of research in this field,” says zoologist Maria Morell of the Institute for Neurosciences of Montpellier in France, who was not involved with the study.

Many species of whales and dolphins have supersensitive hearing because they use sound to navigate, a process known as echolocation. They make clicks that they’re able to hear bounce off objects as small as a ping pong ball 20 meters away. Some hear high-pitch frequencies up to 100 kilohertz (kHz), which is about 80 kHz higher than the upper limit of human hearing. This sensitive hearing makes them particularly susceptible to loud blasts of sound in the ocean. For example, the U.S. Navy uses underwater sonar to find enemy submarines, underwater mines, and determine water depth. The sonar pulses can be so loud that they cause temporary hearing loss in some marine mammals, which may cause them to strand themselves on beaches and die.

In recent years, after being sued by environmental groups, the U.S. Navy agreed to curtail training activities in important whale and dolphin habitats. Seismic surveys that use loud air guns to search for oil and gas are also prohibited from these areas, whereas elsewhere the seismic ships are required to slowly increase the intensity of the air guns so animals in the area have time to leave or adapt. But the effectiveness of these mitigation techniques has never been proved, and the regulations are fickle, vacillating between prioritising the environment, national security, and the oil and gas industries.


In 2008, researchers at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu began to suspect some marine mammals could protect their hearing naturally, at least in modest ways. The team used suction cup electrodes to study marine mammal brain activity during echolocation. Their captive false killer whale, a species of large dolphin, heard her outgoing clicks at a quieter level than equivalent signals presented right in front of her, showing she could adjust her hearing sensitivity when she knew the impending sound would be loud. The dolphin also increased her hearing sensitivity when her trainers asked her to find something far away.

The team collaborated with scientists from Russia and the Netherlands to look for this effect in a bottlenose dolphin, a harbour porpoise, and a beluga whale, in addition to extending the study on the false killer whale. The scientists measured the animals’ brain activity while hearing sounds loud enough to evoke a response, but below the threshold of causing temporary hearing loss. Each of the trained captive animals learned to reduce its hearing sensitivity by 10 to 20 decibels when the scientists played a warning signal before producing the loud sound, the researchers report. “That’s similar to a human putting in foam earplugs,” says team leader Paul Nachtigall, a marine biologist and director emeritus of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in Kailua. “It’s really fascinating to be able to have that switch inside of your head.”

Echolocating bats can dampen their hearing with a muscle reflex that happens independently of sound frequency. But the researchers suspect marine mammals control auditory signals in the brain by regulating the activity of receptor cells and thus sensitivity to the sound, rather than relying on a muscle reflex. This natural muffling ability suggests that military researchers and petroleum exploration companies could produce warning signals at sea before setting off their test explosions, the team suggests. But is this approach likely to be more effective than the current technique of slowly raising the volume? That’s “the empirical question,” Nachtigall says. Another open question is whether the work will translate to animals in the wild.

Dec 2017

Despite experiencing hearing loss a child, 16-year-old Kyle Cloete is a passionate film-maker, and has already won awards for his short films. He shares his story as part of Disability Pride week, to inspire other young people living with disability. I have two worlds – the hearing side and the deaf side. When I was born, my mum knew something was wrong but the doctor repeatedly assured her "Oh no, your baby is fine, don't worry about it”. I wasn't fine. After we moved to New Zealand, doctors found a tumour in my right ear. I needed surgery, and subsequently I was left with one completely deaf ear and moderate hearing loss in the other. I am forever in my parents' debt. They have always supported me and believed that I can achieve whatever I want to do.
Kyle Cloete says if you believe in yourself, you might end up doing what you love for the rest of your life.

Kyle CloeteAs a child, mum wanted to expose me to as many different languages as possible, both visual and oral. My mother is deaf herself so she communicated with me using sign language. My first signs at 6 months were mummy, moon and light. Sign language is so visual, which is why I also love comic books. I was also exposed to the oral world through music, and at seven I was fitted with a cochlear implant which gave me more access to the hearing world.

School was sometimes challenging, as I would miss out on the teacher's instructions, but otherwise I was much the same as other students. I feel lucky to live in New Zealand -compared with other countries in the world, it's very diverse and I have never felt that people judged me because of my disability. Sign language became an official language in New Zealand in 2006, and as more people learn it, our society becomes more inclusive, which is awesome. The deaf community is like a family. If you ever go to a deaf club, you'll be amazed at how quickly people can pick up signs because it is visual language.

I want to show people my world, and share other people's stories too. I think that's why I am so passionate about directing and screenwriting. I know it will be a long road, but I'll do whatever it takes to get there because that's all I want to do. My all-time favourite movie is an old film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - I just love how Blondie is a silent character. I may be hard of hearing, but I never saw that as an excuse not to make films. You can't let your disability define who you are. You need to believe in yourself when nobody else believes in you. You need to imagine yourself in the future going "hey, I want that". The next thing you know, you might be doing what you love for the rest of your life too.

Dec 2017 KKTV 11 News

Marin LiebAfter suffering from debilitating hearing loss in her mid-30s, Marin says she fell into the darkness that deafness can bring. "These implants have just literally brought me back from a point of not being able to communicate either socially or on the phone.” Christmas was a reminder of everything she was missing: hearing her children tear open gifts, festive music playing as they decorated the tree. Marin describes hearing loss during the holidays as being left out on a cold night, looking in at the warmth and light. "One of the traditions we have as a family is listening to music as we set up the Christmas tree and opening gifts and that type of thing. I could no longer do that. In fact, any music that was on it was even harder for me to hear anything," Marin said. This will be the first holiday in years where she will enjoy the season almost perfectly!

Marin’s hearing loss journey also inspired her daughter to become an audiologist! She's a fourth-year student at UC Health in Denver. Marin wants to share her story with the 48 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss and their families. Only a fraction of those affected will ever reach out for help. Because Christmas is so special to them, Marin and her daughter want to reach families and encourage them to explore the new hearing implant technologies available to all ages and all types of hearing loss.

This is the first holiday in many years that Beulah resident Marin Lieb is excited about celebrating with her family.

Dec 2017 MedCrave

Otosclerosis is a bone dysplasia of the optic capsule that promotes progressive metabolic derangement, and can lead to profound hearing loss. This study aimed to compare the postoperative results in patients undergoing cochlear implant with otosclerosis compared with patients with other causes of deafness in a matched pair control group within five years with cochlear implant program. Comfort and Threshold, speech test sentences, monosyllabic and disyllabic, audiometry were measured vs gender, age at implantation, duration of deafness. The conclusion was that otosclerosis patients’ implanted showed good surgical results, despite the greater number of complications presented the stimulation of the facial nerve. These results are comparable to the study of patients in the control group with statistical difference between them, despite the progressive feature of otosclerosis disease.