, Volume 98, Issue 1, pp 1–6 | Cite as

Cross-cultural and cross-ecotype production of a killer whale ‘excitement’ call suggests universality

  • Nicola Rehn
  • Olga A. Filatova
  • John W. Durban
  • Andrew D. Foote
Short Communication


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.


Innateness Universality Close-range interactions Vocal signal 



We would like to thank John Ford, Graeme Ellis, Volker Deecke and Bill and Donna Mackay for generously supplying sound recordings. Stephanie King and three anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments that greatly improved this manuscript. We thank Sabine Holst, Nicole Goerges, Lorna Deppe, Melanie Hingston, Monika Wieland, Libby Whiting, Horace Liang, Kathryn Scurci and Nora Carlson for taking the observer test. Scott Veirs and Jason Wood of the Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School and The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor for facilitating the observer classification.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicola Rehn
    • 1
  • Olga A. Filatova
    • 2
  • John W. Durban
    • 3
  • Andrew D. Foote
    • 4
  1. 1.Biocenter GrindelUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of BiologyMoscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  3. 3.National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science CenterNational Marine Fisheries Service, NOAASeattleUSA
  4. 4.Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History MuseumUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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