Social complexity and cultural transmission of dialects in killer whales

In: Behaviour
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  • 1 Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University, Vorobiovy gory 1/12, Moscow 119992, Russia
  • 2 Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Faculty of Biology, Universitetskaya emb. 7/9, St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia
  • 3 Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Institute of Geography FEB RAS, Pr. Rybakov 19-a, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky 683024, Russia
  • 4 Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Park House, Allington Park, Bridport, Dorset DT6 5DD, UK

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Many social animals have cultural traditions that may shape their societies while the social structure can in turn influence how the culture is acquired. Killer whales possess culturally transmitted dialects. The divergence of dialects was thought to occur simultaneously and consistently with the gradual fission of matrilines. In this paper we compare the social associations across matrilineal units, Bayesian phylogeny of dialects and similarity of particular syllables to test whether dialects affect social structure and whether associations or common origin define similarity of call types. We found that neither phylogeny of dialects nor similarity of syllables was correlated to associations between matrilineal units, but similarity of syllables was correlated to phylogeny of dialects for four of the six syllables analysed. The complexity and fluidity of social ties between matrilineal units and the variation in cultural transmission patterns produce a complex relationship between the social network and the socially learned vocalizations.

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