Orcas communicate through clicks, calls, and whistles, and put together these form a unique language for a community of orcas that doesn’t appear to be used by any other community, even when they share the same waters.

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

These whales build a culture around how they live their lives, and their prey choices are central to this, and it shapes their language.

In the Salish Sea, there are two different types of killer whales, each with its own unique culture. The Southern Residents eat fish, and therefore their culture and language is based around how to find and capture salmon. Bigg’s killer whales, aka transients, eat marine mammals and this requires different hunting techniques and so different languages.

The southern residents’ 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 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!