BATS DO IT TOO: Bats emit a series of ultrasonic pulses that bounce off objects in their environment. How long it takes for the sound to be reflected back to the bat indicates how close (or far) a given object might be, enabling the bat to orient itself as it flies, and detect food. Modern sonar technology is based on the same principle. The more feedback the bat receives, in terms of incoming reflections, the more accurately it can pinpoint a given object's location That's why the rate of the ultrasonic calls increases as the bat nears its prey, climaxing into a "feeding buzz" as the bat locks in on its target and prepares to strike. In contrast, whales appear to use sounds (or "songs") to communicate, emitting a complex sequence of low moans, high squeals and clicking noises that can last as long as 30 minutes. The songs appear to be related to mating cycles.
ABOUT SOUND: Sound waves are pressure waves: the result of a vibrating object that creates a disturbance in the surrounding air. For instance, when the telephone rings, the ringer vibrates very quickly, sending energy radiating outward through the air. These vibrations disturb the molecules that make up the air. The air molecules push closer together as the object moves one way - an effect known as compression -- and then create a space between themselves and the vibrating object as it moves the other way, called rarefaction. The motion disturbs the neighboring molecules in turn, creating an outward ripple effect, much like a stone cast in a quiet pond will cause waves to ripple outward from the spot where the stone hit.
The Acoustical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.