Vocal culture and social stability in resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) release_2v6qfrars5hs5kastqjrz3z3ve

by Harald Yurk

Published by The University of British Columbia.



The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is one of the few species for which vocal culture is actively involved in the development and maintenance of the social organizations of populations. In particular, the social structure of one form of killer whales, called residents, is a good example of this involvement. Resident societies are characterized by associations of groups with highly stable membership, which allow an in-depth examination of the association between vocal culture and the nested social hierarchy of that population. Resident killer whales live in small populations where inbreeding is a threat to their genetic diversity. Genetic and cultural evolution may be closely linked in killer whales, as has been proposed for a number of other cetaceans with matrilineal social structure. To test for a possible link between genetic and cultural evolution in killer whales, I investigated vocal similarities and differences among mixing and non-mixing resident groups and between two ecotypes, residents and transients. First, I examined whether clans exist among resident killer whales in Southern Alaska. Vocal clans had been previously identified in British Columbia but not in Alaska. Two acoustically distinct clans were recognized, each of which was monomorphic for a different mitochondrial D-loop haplotype based on results of a separate genetic study. Thus, acoustic similarities within these cultural groups reflect common matrilineal ancestry, which suggests that clan-based social structure is a fixed characteristic of resident killer whales. Second, I examined the similarity of vocal repertoires between residents and transients, and among clans and communities within residents. Call type similarity does not exist above the clan level. To investigate vocal similarity above the clan level, I split calls into syllables, and compared their distribution among population levels. Structural variation of upper frequency syllables characterized vocal variation among clans of the same community, while usage of distinct lower frequ [...]
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