Vocalizations of the three killer whale ecotypes, the fish-eating (resident) killer whale, the mammal-eating (transient) killer whale, and the offshore killer whale (genetically similar to resident type, but ecologically not well understood) are difficult to distinguish by the untrained ear. However, for the researcher studying killer whale vocalizations they are almost as distinct as photographic images of the whales. The vocalizations not only tell the researcher whether the calling killer whale is a resident, a transient or an offshore, but also reveal to which resident or transient population or sub-population the caller belongs. If the caller is a resident, it furthermore shows who his closest relatives are.
Resident killer whales
Transient killer whales
Offshore killer whales
Killer whales have some of the most distinct vocalizations in the ocean. Not only are their calls, clicks, and whistles different sounding from other whale vocalizations, but whales from specific regions have their own dialect or regional accent. Researchers who study these whales daily are able to not only tell which area a whale is from, but can often distinguish specific individual animals apart.
Killer whales are very social and vocal, echolocating often while traveling and hunting in order to stay in contact with other nearby killer whales. That gives researchers a nearly unlimited amount of sound to record and study.
Researchers have determined that there are between 7 and 17 sets of distinct resident whale calls and the pods that share the same calls are considered to be part of the same clan. Analysis of resident killer whale pods has determined there are four distinct resident killer whale pods living in the waters near British Columbia, Vancouver, and Washington. The norther resident killer whale population has three clans (A, G, and R), the southern resident population has one clan (J). Can you hear the difference between the four clans?
Can you hear the difference between the four clans?