Cross-cultural and cross-ecotype production of a killer whale ‘excitement’ call suggests universality
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- Rehn, N., Filatova, O.A., Durban, J.W. et al. Naturwissenschaften (2011) 98: 1. doi:10.1007/s00114-010-0732-5
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Facial and vocal expressions of emotion have been found in a number of social mammal species and are thought to have evolved to aid social communication. There has been much debate about whether such signals are culturally inherited or are truly biologically innate. Evidence for the innateness of such signals can come from cross-cultural studies. Previous studies have identified a vocalisation (the V4 or ‘excitement’ call) associated with high arousal behaviours in a population of killer whales in British Columbia, Canada. In this study, we compared recordings from three different socially and reproductively isolated ecotypes of killer whales, including five vocal clans of one ecotype, each clan having discrete culturally transmitted vocal traditions. The V4 call was found in recordings of each ecotype and each vocal clan. Nine independent observers reproduced our classification of the V4 call from each population with high inter-observer agreement. Our results suggest the V4 call may be universal in Pacific killer whale populations and that transmission of this call is independent of cultural tradition or ecotype. We argue that such universality is more consistent with an innate vocalisation than one acquired through social learning and may be linked to its apparent function of motivational expression.