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stereotyped whistling in killer whales

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Subject: stereotyped whistling in killer whales
From: Frank Thomsen <>
Date: Mon, 9 Jan 2006 11:54:48 EST
Dear colleagues,

I would like to draw your attention to a paper just published in Animal 
Behaviour (Vol 71: 79-91) on stereotyped whistles in wild killer whales. The 
paper can be directly accessed via the journal's web page. For further 
inquiries / questions, please contact me directly  


Stability and group specificity of stereotyped whistles in resident killer 
whales, Orcinus orca, off British Columbia 

Rüdiger Riesch 1, John K.B. Ford 2, and Frank Thomsen 1

1 Biozentrum Grindel, Universität Hamburg, Germany
2 Pacific Biological Station, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nanaimo, Canada 

Resident killer whales off British Columbia form four acoustically distinct 
clans, each with a unique dialect of discrete pulsed calls. Three clans belong 
to the northern and one to the southern community. Resident killer whales also 
produce tonal whistles, which play an important role in close-range 
communication within the northern community. However, there has been no 
comparative analysis of repertoires of whistles across clans. We investigated 
the structural characteristics, stability and group specificity of whistles in 
resident killer whales off British Columbia. Acoustic recordings and 
behavioural observations were made between 1978 and 2003. Whistles were 
classified spectrographically and additional observers were used to confirm our 
classification. Whistles were compared across clans using discriminant function 
analysis. We found 11 types of stereotyped whistles in the northern and four in 
the southern community with some of the whistle types being stable over at le
ast 13 years. In northern residents, 10 of the 11 whistle types were 
structurally identical in two of the three acoustic clans, whereas the whistle 
types of southern residents differed clearly from those of the northern 
residents. Our study shows that killer whales that have no overlap in their 
call repertoire use essentially the same set of stereotyped whistles. Shared 
stereotyped whistles might provide a community-level means of recognition that 
facilitates association and affiliation of members of different clans, which 
otherwise use distinct signals. We further suggest that vocal learning between 
groups plays an important role in the transmission of whistle types. 

-- Dr. Frank Thomsen biologisch-landschaftsökologische Arbeitsgemeinschaft 
(biola) & Lehrbeauftragter Biozentrum Grindel Universität Hamburg

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