Pilot whale groups have own dialects

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Pilot whale groups have own dialects

December 26, 2018 - 19:39
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Researchers studying pilot whales off the Hawaiian coast have discovered that they have developed their own dialects.

A pilot whale. Although they look alike, the groups of pilot whales off the Hawaiian coast have come up with their own dialects.

Short-finned pilot whales off the coast of Hawaii have their own vocal dialects, according to a study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

This discovery came to light after researchers from the organisation spent several years identifying individual whales and recording their calls with a specialised underwater microphone. After the data was collected, Amy Van Cise (a postdoctoral scholar at WHOI) and volunteers categorised individual types of whale calls and sorted them into distinct groups.

“That let us effectively make a map of vocal repertoire that we could superimpose onto a map of the whales’ social structure,” she says.

“If two social groups sound similar to each other acoustically, that likely means that they’re communicating with each other regularly, using similar habitats or hunting grounds and foraging habits. This gives us a better sense of the social ties between whale groups. In the long term, that could help us understand both their genetic diversity and their evolution.”

“The fact that they have different vocal repertoires means that they’re purposely not associating with each other. […] They identify themselves with certain speech to maintain that separation.”

—Amy Van Cise, postdoctoral scholar at WHOI

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