The Blackfish Sounder
Annual newsletter of the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program
The Blackfish Sounder is the annual Adopters-Only eight-page newsletter of the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program that is sent to anyone who joins the program by adopting a whale. Through a mix of news and feature stories, The Blackfish Sounder keeps adopters up-to-date on what we currently know about killer whales - in B.C. and around the world - and what we hope to learn in the future. See the article below for a sampling from this year's issues (printed in September 2012).
Killer Whale Culture
The most fascinating thing about killer whales is, arguably, the existence of distinct populations that rarely if ever interact or mate. Killer whales are highly mobile animals – so what keeps them apart?
Answer: the same thing that separates many human societies, cultural differences. Killer whales associate and mate with individuals with which they share vocal dialects and other cultural traditions.
In humans, languages carry traces of the history and movement of populations, with recently-separated populations sounding most similar. Using the same logic, a new study led by Dr. Olga Filatova, a Moscow-based researcher who served two terms as visiting scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium, compared resident killer whale dialects to determine whether geographically-close populations split most recently and thus sounded more similar.
To their surprise, Filatova and her colleagues found no relationship between geographical closeness and dialects. Furthermore, they found that the number of “monophonic” calls, used for short distance communication, was greatest in large populations like the Kamchatka residents of the Russian Far East, while the numbers of longer-distance “biphonic calls” was greatest in small populations like the southern residents of B.C. and Washington.
Biphonic calls may reduce inbreeding by helping individuals recognize their close relatives. If so, the lower risk of inbreeding in large populations may mean they need fewer biphonic calls. It will take more research to determine whether forces driving the evolution of monophonic and biphonic calls have eliminated traces of population splits or whether populations tend to move away from each other after splitting.
In this study, like so many others, killer whales have proven to be extraordinarily complex. Take home message: killer whale research, fascinating as it is, is not for the faint-hearted!
Back Issues of the Blackfish Sounder
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Blackfish Sounder no.1 - 1993
Blackfish Soudner no.2 - 1994
Blackfish Sounder no.3 - 1995
Blackfish Sounder no.4 - 1996
Blackfish Sounder no.5 - 1997
Blackfish Sounder no.6 - 1998
Blackfish Sounder no.7 - 1999
Blackfish Sounder no.8 - 2000
The Blackfish Sounder is the annual Members-Only newsletter of the BC Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program. Please login to view the current issue and the full collection of past issues of the Blackfish Sounder.