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Ecological and Social Drivers of Acoustic Communication in Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)

Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

This PhD. project is conducted by Tatiana Marchon under the supervision of Dr. Filipa Samarra and Dr. Marianne Rasmussen at the University of Iceland.

The aim the project is to investigate the interplay between ecological specialization, sociality and communication in a marine top predator, the killer whale (Orcinus orca). In the best-studied populations from the North Pacific, strict diet specializations have heavily shaped the respective social organization and vocal behavior of fish vs. mammal eating ecotypes.

In contrast, North Atlantic killer whales have diverse foraging strategies, fluid social structure and interspecific competition for prey resources. Therefore, North Atlantic killer whales pose an interesting case study to investigate how sociality, ecology and competition shape different patterns of acoustic communication in this apex predator.

These factors have been little studied outside the North Pacific ecotypes and thus this project will advance and broaden scientific understanding of the dynamics driving sound production in this species, that heavily relies on acoustic communication for survival.

More broadly, this study will improve knowledge of the acoustic behaviour of the North Atlantic killer whale and increase understanding of their behavioural and social connectivity to other populations.

Tatiana Marchon