Evidence that Killer Whales Are Trying to Communicate with Dolphins

Illustration for article titled Evidence that Killer Whales Are Trying to Communicate with Dolphins

Humans are not the only creatures who try to imitate the sounds of other animals. It turns out that killer whales try to imitate dolphin clicks. But why?


Photo by Monika Wieland via Shutterstock

Over at Seriously, Science?, we learn that a new scientific study has identified a series of calls that killer whales make to imitate dolphin calls:

This study suggests that, given a chance, different species of cetaceans may be able to learn to communicate with each other. Scientists noticed that killer whales who had spent time with bottlenose dolphins incorporated more clicking and whistles in their vocalizations than other whales, making their "language" a mashup of the two. In fact, one whale was able to learn the sounds taught to a dolphin trained by people! Although we don't know what these different languages mean, or how much information is being transmitted between the species, it's clear that these animals are motivated to learn to make each other's sounds.

What we don't know is whether the whales are trying to communicate — or whether these noises are more like the bird calls made by hunters.



Orcas are dolphins, if we're defining dolphins as members of the group Delphinidae. I forget if there's been any observed hunting of bottlenose dolphins by orcas. But orcas do hunt and kill almost anything they can get their hands fins on, so it's entirely possible orcas are just trying to talk like their potential prey.