Characterizing whale vocalization can help map migration

December 03, 2019

SAN DIEGO, December 3, 2019 -- Killer whale pods each have their own set of calls they use to communicate, sometimes referred to as the pod's "dialect." By characterizing an individual pod's calls, researchers can track the pod's seasonal movements, gaining a better understanding of the whales' lives.

Jessica Sportelli, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, studies a pod of relatively unknown killer whales in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Canada. Because little is currently known about this pod's ecology, Sportelli will describe their repertoire of calls at the 178th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, which will take place Dec. 2-6, at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.

The talk, "Call discrimination for an unknown pod of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the Eastern Canadian Arctic," will be presented at 10:05 a.m. Pacific (U.S.) on Tuesday, Dec. 3 as part of a session on low-frequency sound production and passive acoustic monitoring.

Having a unique dialect allows the members of a pod to maintain cohesion and avoid inbreeding by being able to identify other members. Because call repertoires are unique to a pod, understanding them can help scientists observe the pod over time and map their migration behavior.

"Once we know more about where they come from and more about their migration abilities, we can start asking questions like, Why are they leaving their place of origin? What is changing about their place of origin, or what is now lacking in their place of origin that they needed to move in the summer?" said Sportelli.

A predominantly Inuit community, Pond Inlet has seen an increase in killer whales, which may affect the prosperity of indigenous subsistence hunters. Sportelli hopes to obtain acoustic readings of other whale populations around the North Atlantic to compare with the calls at Pond Inlet and build a timeline of the whales' movement.

"It is one piece of the puzzle to understanding the life history of these animals," Sportelli said. "We don't know a lot about North Atlantic killer whales, so any information on them that gives us a fuller picture on how they live their lives is important."

Sportelli's presentation 2aAB8, " Call discrimination for an unknown pod of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the Eastern Canadian Arctic," will be at 10:05 a.m. PT, Tuesday, Dec. 3, in the Edison room of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.

Main meeting website:

Technical program:

Press Room:


In the coming weeks, ASA's Worldwide Press Room will be updated with additional tips on dozens of newsworthy stories and with lay language papers, which are 300-500 word summaries of presentations written by scientists for a general audience and accompanied by photos, audio and video. You can visit the site during the meeting at


We will grant free registration to credentialed journalists and professional freelance journalists. If you are a reporter and would like to attend, contact the AIP Media Line at 301-209-3090. For urgent requests, staff at can also help with setting up interviews and obtaining images, sound clips or background information.


Press briefings will be webcast live from the conference Tuesday, Dec. 3, in Hospitality Suite 3103 of the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Register at to watch the live webcast. The schedule will be posted at the same site as soon as it is available.


The Acoustical Society of America (ASA) is the premier international scientific society in acoustics devoted to the science and technology of sound. Its 7,000 members worldwide represent a broad spectrum of the study of acoustics. ASA publications include The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (the world's leading journal on acoustics), Acoustics Today magazine, books, and standards on acoustics. The society also holds two major scientific meetings each year. For more information about ASA, visit our website at

Acoustical Society of America

Related Whales Articles from Brightsurf:

Blue whales change their tune before migrating
While parsing through years of recorded blue whale songs looking for seasonal patterns, researchers were surprised to observe that during feeding season in the summer, whales sing mainly at night, but as they prepare to migrate to their breeding grounds for the winter, this pattern reverses and the whales sing during the day.

Shhhh, the whales are resting
A Danish-Australian team of researchers recommend new guidelines for noise levels from whale-watching boats after having carried out experiments with humpback whales.

Fishing less could be a win for both lobstermen and endangered whales
A new study by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found that New England's historic lobster fishery may turn a higher profit by operating with less gear in the water and a shorter season.

North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer condition than Southern right whales
New research by an international team of scientists reveals that endangered North Atlantic right whales are in much poorer body condition than their counterparts in the southern hemisphere.

Solar storms could scramble whales' navigational sense
When our sun belches out a hot stream of charged particles in Earth's general direction, it doesn't just mess up communications satellites.

A better pregnancy test for whales
To determine whale pregnancy, researchers have relied on visual cues or hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, but the results were often inconclusive.

Why whales are so big, but not bigger
Whales' large bodies help them consume their prey at high efficiencies, a more than decade-long study of around 300 tagged whales now shows, but their gigantism is limited by prey availability and foraging efficiency.

Whales stop being socialites when boats are about
The noise and presence of boats can harm humpback whales' ability to communicate and socialise, in some cases reducing their communication range by a factor of four.

Endangered whales react to environmental changes
Some 'canaries' are 50 feet long, weigh 70 tons, and are nowhere near a coal mine.

Stranded whales detected from space
A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space.

Read More: Whales News and Whales Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to