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Rattus norvegicus (Long Evans rat): Rodents are the most commonly used animals in both behavioral and biomedical experiments (see Besselsen's Biology of Rodents for a detailed discussion of why this is the case). Long Evans rats are also known as the hooded or piebald rat, because of their distinctive coloration.  Rats are not well known for their auditory capabilities and for a while it was believed that rats were functionally deaf (despite the fact they are nocturnal and show clear ear movements in response to novel sounds).  Rats can be trained to perform a wide range of behavioral tasks including auditory learning tasks.  Science is a cumulative process, and because so much is now known about the biology and learning abilities of rats, they are extremely useful research subjects. However, most scientists are only interested in rats to the extent that the abilities of rats parallel the abilities of people.  I am currently conducting behavioral and electrophysiological experiments with rats to try and better understand how experience affects the neural processing of sounds.  My experiments with rats are designed such that they can be replicated in humans and other animals to facilitate direct comparisons of auditory learning abilities across  species.  These experiments will hopefully lead to new treatments that can help people with learning and perceptual disabilities.

Megaptera novaeangliae (humpback whale): Humpback whales are medium sized baleen whales (Mysticeti), about 10-16 m long. The name humpback comes not from body shape, but rather from the characteristic appearance of this whale as it submerges.  Baleen is the name for the flexible keratinous sieve-like structures that mysticetes possess in lieu of teeth, through which they strain sea water to extract krill and small fishes that make up the bulk of their diet.  Until modern whaling reduced their numbers, humpback whales ranged over all the oceans in both hemispheres.  The north Pacific humpback population, thought to have been around 15,000 prior to whaling, had shrunk to about 1000 in 1966 when it was protected by international agreement.  Although there is a single worldwide species, humpback whales have their own genus, Megaptera (meaning large wings), because of several distinctive anatomical characteristics, notably their long pectoral fins which can reach lengths of up to 5 m.  A second unusual characteristic is that, on the tops and sides of their heads, humpbacks have subregular arrays of protuberances known as tubercles.  Each fleshy tubercle is cup-shaped on top and contains a single hair (vibrissa) that is covered by the tubercle for most of its length, with many nerves attached to its base and sides. Apart from anatomy, humpbacks are distinctive because of their exuberant behavior, such as fin slaps, tail slaps, and breaching, and because of their "song."  Conducting studies with humpback whales is difficult because (1) they spend most of their lives underwater; (2) they are too large to be kept in an enclosure for extended periods; (3) they travel large distances on a yearly basis; (4) it is illegal to approach or conduct experiments with humpback whales without a federal permit.  Because of these constraints, most studies of humpback whales are observational.  Humpback whales are unique in many ways and are especially interesting as subjects of auditory learning and plasticity studies because the dynamic features of their songs imply highly flexible auditory processing abilities.  My studies of humpback whales focus on how they use sound, and on how hearing in humpbacks compares with hearing in other mammals.