[MARMAM] New paper on killer whale dialects

Robin Abernethy Robin.Abernethy at dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Tue Mar 16 09:01:38 PDT 2010

Dear Marmam subscribers

The following paper has recently been published online by the Journal Naturwissenschaften. Please e-mail Volker Deecke <volker.deecke at st-andrews.ac.uk> with any questions regarding this work.

 Deecke, V. B., Barrett-Lennard, L. G., Spong, P. & Ford, J. K. B. 2010. The structure of stereotyped calls reflects kinship and social affiliation in resident killer whales (Orcinus orca). Naturwissenschaften DOI 10.1007/s00114-010-0657-z, published online 09 March 2010


A few species of mammals produce group- specific vocalisations that are passed on by learning, but the function of learned vocal variation remains poorly understood. Resident killer whales live in stable matrilineal groups with repertoires of seven to 17 stereotyped call types. Some types are shared among matrilines, but their structure typically shows matriline-specific differences. Our objective was to analyse calls of nine killer whale matri- lines in British Columbia to test whether call similarity primarily reflects social or genetic relationships. Recordings were made in 1985–1995 in the presence of focal matrilines that were either alone or with groups with non-overlapping repertoires. We used neural network discrimination perfor- mance to measure the similarity of call types produced by different matrilines and determined matriline association rates from 757 encounters with one or more focal matri- lines. Relatedness was measured by comparing variation at 11 microsatellite loci for the oldest female in each group. Call similarity was positively correlated with association rates for two of the three call types analysed. Similarity of the N4 call type was also correlated with matriarch relatedness. No relationship between relatedness and association frequency was detected. These results show that call structure reflects relatedness and social affiliation, but not because related groups spend more time together. Instead, call structure appears to play a role in kin recognition and shapes the association behaviour of killer whale groups. Our results therefore support the hypothesis that increasing social complexity plays a role in the evolution of learned vocalisations in some mammalian species.

KEYWORDS: Vocal learning . Gene-culture coevolution . Social network . Kin recognition


Robin Abernethy
Research Technician
Cetacean Research Program
Pacific Biological Station
3190 Hammond Bay Road
Nanaimo, BC
V9T 6N7

robin.abernethy at dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Office : (250) 756-7201
Fax : (250) 756-7053  

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