Killer whales learn to vocalize like dolphins when the two species are socialized. That’s the exciting discovery made by scientists who say that orcas imitate sounds to facilitate communication. When killer whales spend time with bottlenose dolphins, their vocalization patterns change to “dolphin-like clicks and fewer pulsed calls,” versus their typical “clicks, whistles and pulsed calls.” A pulsed call is a brief burst of sound punctuated by silence, according to the Daily Mail; dolphins don’t make pulsed calls.
A study by Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute in San Diego, California, revealed that the killers whales’ ability to mimic the sounds of bottlenose dolphins could enable social interactions among cetaceans. This ability is known as vocal learning. Senior research scientist Ann Bowles, of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute spoke about the theory that killer whales were capable of learning dialects, and explained the scientists’ opportunity to observe the mammals to learn more about their inherent ability to adapt their vocalizations in the presence of bottlenose dolphins.
“There’s been an idea for a long time that killer whales learn their dialect, but it isn’t enough to say they all have different dialects so therefore they learn. There needs to be some experimental proof so you can say how well they learn and what context promotes learning… We had a perfect opportunity because historically, some killer whales have been held with bottlenose dolphins.”
Killer whales are also commonly called orca whales, orcas, and blackfish. Like bottlenose dolphins, they are classified in the order Cetacea. Also like bottlenose dolphins, they are marine mammals that give birth to live young and produce milk for their offspring. Killer whales are the largest members of the dolphin family (Delphinidae).
Of the killer whales studied by researchers, all adapted the frequency of clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls to more closely match their bottlenose dolphin counterparts. Bowles explained that killer whales don’t use speech in the same manner as humans, but they do exhibit the ability to learn new vocal patterns.
“Killer whales seem to be really motivated to match the features of their social partners. It’s important to understand how they acquire their vocalization patterns, and lifelong, to what degree they can change it, because there are a number of different cetacean populations on the decline right now.”
Bowles and her team of researchers studied one killer whale among the bottlenose dolphins that was able to learn and replicate a series of chirps taught to the bottlenose dolphins prior to its arrival. This part of the experiment taught researchers that orcas have the ability to learn new sounds.
The study on killer whales by University of San Diego graduate student Whitney Musser and Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute senior research scientist Dr. Ann Bowles was published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America on October 7, 2014.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, killer whales were caught on video attacking and killing a tiger shark. The amazing sight was documented by a group of divers who spotted the orca pod come across the tiger shark near Costa Rica. The three killer whales attacked the shark, forcing it to the surface of the water before flipping it over and immobilizing it. With their prey captured, the predators devoured the flesh from the bones.
[Image by Minette Layne from Seattle, Washington, USA via Wikimedia Commons]