Orcas communicate through pulsed calls, and whistles and these form a unique dialect for a family. They express their identity through their cultural habits, and their prey choices are central to this, and so it shapes their language.

Orca language is learned and inherited, and just like human babies, orcas can hear their mother in the womb, and so they’re learning their family’s language before they’re born!

The Southern Resident killer whales’ language is so sophisticated that it contains three distinct dialects, one for each of the pods—J, K, and L—with vocalizations that are unique to each pod. However, some are calls are common across all three pods, facilitating communication across the community, which allows them to socialize, bond, and mate with other pod members, and most likely for many other cultural and social traditions that we are not even aware of!

In the Salish Sea, there are two different types of killer whales, each with its own culture. The Southern Residents eat salmon, and this shapes their culture and language. Bigg’s killer whales, aka transients, eat marine mammals and this requires different hunting techniques and so a different language. There’s no evidence that these groups can communicate between each other.

Support our Work