Archive for September 29th, 2008

Mother-calf communication in wild killer whales

Call-response slideOn July 2, 2008, Val Veirs presented some of the most exciting research results yet gathered by Beam Reach students and staff.  In a talk entitled “Spatial confirmation of vocal communication between a killer whale calf and its natal family” (Powerpoint link), Val presented an analysis (by Val, Jason, and Scott) of a sequence of calls we heard while towing our hydrophone array in fall, 2007.  As these calls occurred, a juvenile whale (Oreo, J38) left its mother and brother, approached the array from the port side, turned underwater, surfaced off our bow, and then regrouped with its family.

With our ability to localize each of the calls, we learned that J38 was exchanging calls with its mother and/or brother.  (The latter two were too close together to determine who was making the calls that came from their area).   Val’s cool Flash animation of the localized orca call sequence marks an initial confirmation that orcas communicate by exchanging calls, rather than by having a leader issue all calls to the rest of the pod.  In fact, one interpretation of the call sequence is that juveniles not only communicate with their immediate elders, but also argue adamantly with their mothers as they rebelliously explore their environment!

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