Australian long-finned pilot whales are sneakily breaching protocol, mimicking the calls of their natural predator and food rival – the killer whale — as a possible ploy to outsmart it.
A new Curtin University study analysed the calls of long-finned pilot whales in the Great Australian Bight, off Western Australia and South Australia, between 2013 and 2017.
It’s the first study of its kind south of the equator.
The research also found evidence of ‘duetting’, which is common in birds and primates but very rarely reported in aquatic mammals.
It all suggests the whale’s sophisticated acoustic communication system is more complex than previously thought.
Lead author Rachael Courts from Curtin’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology said it was remarkable that the whales showed what appeared to be mimicry of a call of the Australian killer whale.
“This mimicry may be a clever strategy employed by the whales in order to disguise themselves from predators including killer whales,” Ms Courts said.
“It may also allow them to scavenge food remnants from killer whales, undetected.”
Some of the long-finned pilot whale calls were found to be remarkably like those of the same species in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Our findings therefore raise the question of how far these two populations’ home ranges really extend,” Ms Courts said.
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