Thomsen, F. Franck, D. and Ford, J.K.B. (2001). Characteristics of whistles from the acoustic repertoire of resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) off Vancouver Island, British Columbia. J. Acoust. Soc. Am., Vol. 109:3, pp. 1240-1246
The acoustic repertoire of killer whales (Orcinus orca) consists of pulsed calls and tonal sounds, called whistles. Although previous studies gave information on whistle parameters, no study has presented a detailed quantitative characterization of whistles from wild killer whales. Thus an interpretation of possible functions of whistles in killer whale underwater communication has been impossible so far. In this study acoustic parameters of whistles from groups of individually known killer whales were measured. Observations in the field indicate that whistles are close-range signals. The majority of whistles (90%) were tones with several harmonics with the main energy concentrated in the fundamental. The remainder were tones with enhanced second or higher harmonics and tones without harmonics. Whistles had an average bandwidth of 4.5 kHz, an average dominant frequency of 8.3 kHz, and an average duration of 1.8 s. The number of frequency modulations per whistle ranged between 0 and 71. The study indicates that whistles in wild killer whales serve a different function than whistles of other delphinids. Their structure makes whistles of killer whales suitable to function as close-range motivational sounds.