LISTEN | Killer Whale recorded ‘singing’ for the first time in South African waters


Killer Whale
Photo by Nitesh Jain on Unsplash

The sounds of a killer whale have been recorded in South Africa for the first time, near Fish Hoek in False Bay this week.

The unique recording was captured by researchers Tess Gridley and Simon Elwen from Sea Search after being tipped off by local whale watchers. Sea Search is a non-profit based in Muizenberg that focuses on research and conservation of marine mammals along the coasts of South Africa and Namibia.

“We have a local sightings group which is a bunch of keen whale watchers and operators. Somebody reported early in the morning that there was a killer whale in the False Bay area at around eight o’clock,” Simon Elwen told Business Insider SA.

Sea Search has been coordinating acoustic and biopsy research into killer whales for the last two years, working in collaboration with the University of Pretoria as well as Durham University in the United Kingdom.

“It was a male with an erect normal upright dorsal fin. We probably have it in the catalogue,” said Elwen. “It was quite unusual behaviour [to see]. Usually, when killer whales are in the False Bay they tend to keep moving. It was very unusual to see they were staying in one area. The way it behaved we presumable it was probably feeding on something in the bottom – probably some reef-associated fish or a ray or something like that.”

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“This is the first documentation of orca vocalisations we think in South African waters. In general, killer whales are known for having a shared dialect. So, in groups they share a repertoire of call types,” Tess Gridley told Business Insider SA.

“As you can hear from the short clips we put up on our YouTube channel they can sound quite odd. The sound like little bursts and squeaks and whistles. We’re really at the beginning of our research of killer whales in South Africa and vocalisations. Which is why we are excited to get this data.”

According to the researchers, the audio is important to identify different ecotypes from the calls that killer whales make.

“It’s the missing piece of the puzzle in our acoustics research. We haven’t had killer whale records from around our coast before. In terms of the creature’s classification, you need to get data in the area that you are interested in to be able to make the classifications. Killer whales like other dolphin species can learn their calls and they can be different in different areas. So, from a call perspective, it’s really important to get decent data from the area we work in,” said Gridley.

Little is known about why killer whales have moved into this part of the world, but answering the questions is all part of the work the team at Sea Search does. Listen to the incredible recording below and read more trending news, right here.


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