DEC 19, 2018 7:11 PM PST

Different Pilot Whale Groups Exhibit Different Call Dialects, Study Finds

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Depending on where you’re from, you may speak the same language as someone else, but with a slight accent or dialect that sets your speech apart from that of others. But did you know wild animals can exhibit similar forms of speech variation? Indeed, this characteristic isn’t unique to humans; in fact, it could be more widespread in the animal kingdom than we know.

Not long ago, a team of researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) observed comparable vocal mannerisms in short-finned pilot whale communities off the coast of Hawaii while studying the local short-finned pilot whale community by boat and recording their calls with underwater microphones.

A picture of a short-finned pilot whale, captured by the researchers.

Image Credit: Amy Van Cise, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Their findings, published this week in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, align with the results of a previous 15-year study in which the same researchers discerned that all the short-finned pilot whales in the region were either closely or distantly related to one another.

"These groups of pilot whales all use the same habitat. The fact that they have different vocal repertoires means that they're purposely not associating with each other," explained study lead author Amy Van Cise.

"It's sort of like if you've got hipsters and prep kids in the same high school—each group has different slang. They identify themselves with certain speech to maintain that separation."

Related: Why are pilot whales stranding themselves in New Zealand?

While some of the whale calls sounded alike, others were slightly different. As it would seem, the calls that sounded alike originated from closely-related whales in the community, while those that differed came from distantly-related whales in the community.

The researchers reached this conclusion after cross-referencing the call recordings with genetic samples collected during the last study and with samples collected throughout the new research.

"That let us effectively make a map of vocal repertoire that we could superimpose onto a map of the whales' social structure," she added.

"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."

Related: At least 50 pilot whales have beached themselves in New Zealand

According to the researchers, their study was a step forward in understanding the cryptic social ties among short-finned pilot whale communities; this is particularly important given just how little we know about the species, and should conservation needs ever arise for the species, perhaps understanding their communication methods will prove vital.

It should be interesting to see what other whale-related endeavors the researchers will take on in the future. After all, it seems to be their forte.

Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
MAR 09, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAR 09, 2020
These Beetles Protect Themselves From Predators by Spraying Acid
At first glance, oogpister and bombardier beetles may look just like any other beetle, but it sports a uniquely interest ...
APR 17, 2020
Health & Medicine
APR 17, 2020
A Brief History: The Search for the Perfect High
With cannabis coming in closely behind alcohol as the most widely used recreational drug in the United States, researche ...
APR 20, 2020
Plants & Animals
APR 20, 2020
How Sand Cats Survive in the Harsh Desert Environment
The sand cat is a type of feline that spends nearly all its life in the desert. While they may not look that much differ ...
APR 26, 2020
Plants & Animals
APR 26, 2020
Researchers Observe Vocal Learning in Bats
Bats have garnered oodles of attention in previous weeks as they’ve been identified as potential carriers of the i ...
MAY 07, 2020
Health & Medicine
MAY 07, 2020
Mosquito Feeding Time Shift Impacts Malaria Prevention Methods
Thanks to the success of insecticide-treated bed nets, mosquitos seem to have shifted their feeding times away from the ...
MAY 18, 2020
Plants & Animals
MAY 18, 2020
Sharks Actually Fear Dolphins, and Here's Why
Sharks are often viewed as one of the ocean’s top apex predators, but despite this rather prestigious classificati ...
Loading Comments...