The pattern of auditory masking derived from Gaussian noise is often cited and used to predict the detrimental effects of masking noise on marine mammals. However, environmental noise (both anthropogenic and natural) may not always be Gaussian distributed. Some noise sources are highly structured with complex amplitude fluctuations that extend across frequency regions, which are often termed comodulated noise. Recent evidence with bottlenose dolphins using comodulated noise demonstrated a significant release from masking compared to Gaussian maskers of the same bandwidth and pressure spectral density level, a result known as comodulation masking release. The present study demonstrates a pattern of masking where both temporally fluctuating comodulated noise and environmental noise produce lower masked thresholds compared to Gaussian noise of the same spectral density level and bandwidth. Furthermore, a threshold reduction or “masking release” occurred when the environmental noise bandwidth increased beyond a critical band. These results provide further evidence that conventional models of auditory masking using Gaussian maskers (i.e., the power spectrum model) do not fully describe the masking effects that occur in realistic environments.

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