On the communicative significance of whistles in wild killer whales (Orcinus orca)
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) use pulsed calls and whistles in underwater communication. Unlike pulsed calls, whistles have received little study and thus their function is poorly known. In this study, whistle activities of groups of individually known killer whales were compared quantitatively across behavioural categories. Acoustic recordings and simultaneous behavioural observations were made of northern resident killer whales off Vancouver Island in 1996 and 1997. Whistles were produced at greater rates than discrete calls during close-range behavioural activities than during long-range activities. They were the predominant sound-type recorded during socializing. The number of whistles per animal per minute was significantly higher during close-range behavioural activities than during long-range activities. Evidently, whistles play an important role in the close-range acoustic communication in northern resident killer whales.
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