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Structural Characteristics of Pulsed Calls of Long-Finned Pilot Whales Globicephala melas

Leah Nemiroff & Hal Whitehead (2009). Structural Characteristics of Pulsed Calls of Long-Finned Pilot Whales Globicephala melas. Bioacoustics, Volume 19 (1-2): 67 -92



The pulsed calls of Long-finned Pilot Whales Globicephala melas have received little study, and their structure and function remain unclear. We examined the pulsed calls of Pilot Whales off Nova Scotia by taking multiple measures of 419 spectrograms from recordings made over a span of eight years. The results offer a quantitative description of pulsed call structure necessary for subsequent analysis of signal functionality and social relevance. Pilot Whale pulsed calls were found to be physically complex, with multiple, independently modulated components that are likely rich in information and difficult for eavesdroppers to imitate. The production of such structurally complicated signals suggests they play an important role in Pilot Whale communication. The pulsed calls appear to form two main call types: those with a maximum visible sideband above 18 kHz and those with a maximum visible sideband below 15 kHz. However, there is no indication of further discrete categories despite a large amount of variation between calls within those two broad categories. The high variation in call structures may indicate communicative plasticity, allowing the whales to communicate state, such as level of arousal, and to compensate or variable background noise levels. The structural similarity of Pilot Whale and Killer Whale Orcinus orca pulsed calls raises the question of whether the distantly related whale species, with a shared but rare social structure, have evolved similar call structures to solve similar communication challenges.


Globicephala melas, Long-finned Pilot Whales, pulsed calls, vocalizations, communication