Previous experiments have shown (1) evidence that exposure to high-intensity sounds (e.g., air-gun signals) may cause damage to the sensory hair cells of the fish ears and impair fish hearing and (2) evidence that in some circumstances such exposures cause minimal structural damage. The contradictory results regarding the damage accrued suggested that the angle of sound energy arrivals at the fish ears may play a part in the propensity of the sound to cause damage to sensory hair cells. To further study this and gain insight into specific details of the differential motion of the otolith relative to the sensory macula when incident sounds arrive from different directions, three-dimensional finite element models were constructed based on the micro-computed tomography imaging of the sagittal otoliths of the bight redfish (Centroberyx gerrardi). We used the models to study the response of fish sagittal otoliths to sounds arriving from horizontal and vertical directions. Sound pressure levels, relative displacement, acceleration, and shear stress of the otoliths and/or otolith-water boundary were calculated and compared. The results suggest that the angle of sound energy arrivals at the otoliths and the geometry of the otolith lead to different magnitudes of the differential motion between the macula and otoliths, with sound arriving in the vertical potentially creating more damage than the same sound arriving from the horizontal.

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