Seals learn killers’ clicks

Date: 1/12/2003

Seals can distinguish between the sounds of friends and foes. The mammals flee at the sound of distant chatter between killer whales with a taste for seal blood, but continue to feed when fish-eating killer whales converse nearby, new research shows.

Killer whales cruise America’s Pacific Northwest. Some live in large family groups along the coastline, feeding exclusively on fish. Others patrol hundreds of miles of coast in smaller packs, hunting harbour seals. The two populations are genetically distinct and have their own dialects of clicks and whistles.

Seals also flee when they hear the sounds of unfamiliar fish-eating orcas. This suggests that the animals have come to trust local fish-eating killer whales, rather than learning to fear their predators..

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