, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 333-341

The function of multi-pod aggregations of fish-eating killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Kamchatka, Far East Russia

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Abstract

In fish-eating North Pacific killer whales, large multi-pod aggregations of up to 100 animals often occur. These aggregations are thought to be reproductive gatherings where mating between members of different pods takes place. However, killer whales are social animals, and the role of these aggregations might also be establishing and maintaining social bonds between pods. Alternatively, it is also possible that multi-pod aggregations are in some way connected with foraging or searching for fish. In this study of killer whales in the western North Pacific, we describe multi-pod aggregations quantitatively and suggest their functional role in the life of fish-eating killer whales. We show that foraging is rare in multi-pod aggregations, whether inter-clan or intra-clan, and thus they are unlikely to play an important role in cooperative foraging. Socialising occurs more frequently in inter-clan rather than in intra-clan aggregations, which suggests the higher arousal level and possible mating during inter-clan aggregations. In summary, multi-pod aggregations of Kamchatka killer whales might be both reproductive assemblages and “clubs” of some kind in which whales gather to establish and maintain social bonds.