Monday, March 17, 2014

Killer Whale Communication and Family Bonds

Ever since watching the increasingly popular "Blackfish" documentary on TV, I've been interested in learning more about the Killer Whale. Two topics that were slightly touched on in the documentary were communication among the Killer Whales, as well as their strong family bond among the species.

In my presentation, I plan to talk about the types of communication that Killer Whales use both in captivity and in the wild. Two studies that I found talk about whistle communication, acoustic communication, and clicking. Killer Whales use this kind of echo-communication to tell each other where prey are/how to attack the prey, to warn each other of surrounding predators, to call to others (if lost/separated, etc), to give direction to others on where to swim, and even to advertise to others the type of bond between two whales (like dominance or territory). Within groups of Killer Whales, some types of communications are shared with the entire group, while others are only shared by some of the other whales. Parameters and distance are also a factor when it comes to communication; Killer Whales will use specific kinds of communication patterns depending on if they are far away or near each other. It can also depend on if invasive species are in the area as well.

Echo-communication slightly blends in with the topic of the family bonds that Killer Whales have. I found a study that talks about gene flow and genetic structure within the Killer Whale species. It found that there were low levels of genetic diversity, indicating that there's not only low gene flow, but that Killer Whales tend to stay together in their pods. They also found that dispersal among Killer Whales are rare even after they've matured, further indicating the bond of the pods and showing that there still is gene flow even without dispersal!

Below are the primary literature that I will be using:
1a. Whistle Communication in Mammal-eating Killer Whales (OhioLink Abstract)
1b. Whistle Communication in Mammal-eating Killer Whales (Full PDF)

2a. Vocal Sharing and Individual Acoustic Distinctiveness Within a Group of Captive Orcas (OhioLink Abstract)
2b. Vocal Sharing and Individual Acoustic Distinctiveness Within a Group of Captive Orcas (Full PDF)

3a. Gene Flow and Genetic Structure (OhioLink Abstract)
3b. Gene Flow and Genetic Structure (Full PDF)

Since this was inspired by the controversy between "Blackfish" and SeaWorld, I may try and find information from their sites to add to the conversation, as well.

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