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Temporal and Contextual Patterns of Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) Call Type Production


Andrew D. Foote, University of Aberdeen, Lighthouse Field Station, George Street, Cromarty, Ross-shire, IV11 8YE, UK.


Fish-eating killer whales Orcinus orca in the northeastern Pacific live in highly stable matrifocal social groups called pods. Each pod produces a repertoire of seven or more stereotyped call types. We compared the relative production of call types of free-ranging killer whale pods over time and between social contexts. The relative production of call types by each pod during directional travel was distinct over a 27-yr period; however, both temporal stability and pod distinctiveness were strongly influenced by a subset of dominant call types within the repertoire of each pod. Some call types within the repertoires contain biphonation (two overlapping independently modulated tones) and have a higher estimated active space than call types containing just one tone. In multi-pod aggregations the relative production of the dominant call types of each pod decreased and the relative production of a subset of call types that are rarely recorded from single-pod groupings increased. The majority of these contained biphonation. The data suggest a distinction between a subset of dominant call types that may function to identify the pod and a subset of less common call types including several call types containing biphonation that are more commonly produced during inter-pod affiliations.