A team of scientists from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) and SeaWorld San Diego has provided the strongest evidence yet that killer whale dialects are learned.
The study found that juvenile male killer whales are capable of learning new call types when they undergo a change in social association.
Killer whales have vocal repertoires that scientists call ‘dialects’ because they’re composed of calls unique to particular social groups. Discovering how whales develop these dialects hasn’t been possible in the wild because of the inherent challenges in tracking an individual whale’s vocalizations and behavior regularly and for extended periods of time.
The HSWRI study took advantage of the unique habitat at SeaWorld that was outfitted with multichannel video and eight hydrophones. This environment allowed the researchers to record and analyze the calls made by individual whales over a five-year period.
Learning whether social association affects the calls of killer whales sheds important light on how wild populations of whales interact. Scientists still don’t know if and how populations of killer whales can merge. The data from this study give clues about how that might occur.
To find out more about this and other research projects at SeaWorld visit www.seaworld.com/truth.