Killer whales (also known as orcas) are members of the dolphin family, but that doesn’t mean that they speak exactly the same language. Orcas communicate through a series of clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls. Bottlenose dolphins produce similar sounds, but in different proportions -- basically, their vocalizations consist mostly of clicks and whistles, rather than pulsed calls. When scientists at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute analyzed the vocalizations of both species after they had been living together for several years, they discovered that the killer whales had begun to mimic the dolphins’ vocal cadences.
Now you're speaking my language:
- Essentially, the killer whales seemed to interact with the bottlenose dolphins with a higher proportion of clicks and whistles, and a lower proportion of pulsed calls than other orcas typically use.
- The researchers concluded that this is evidence that killer whales can learn vocalization patterns from other species.
- The researchers also discovered that orcas can learn completely new sounds. One killer whale learned how to make a chirping sequence that the dolphins had been taught by a human before the whale's arrival.