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Biol Lett. 2006 Dec 22;2(4):509-12.

Killer whales are capable of vocal learning.

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  • 1School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham, Durham DH1 3LE, UK.


The production learning of vocalizations by manipulation of the sound production organs to alter the physical structure of sound has been demonstrated in only a few mammals. In this natural experiment, we document the vocal behaviour of two juvenile killer whales, Orcinus orca, separated from their natal pods, which are the only cases of dispersal seen during the three decades of observation of their populations. We find mimicry of California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) barks, demonstrating the vocal production learning ability for one of the calves. We also find differences in call usage (compared to the natal pod) that may reflect the absence of a repertoire model from tutors or some unknown effect related to isolation or context.

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