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SeaWorld Orcas Learn A New Dialect

New research out of SeaWorld San Diego suggests killer whales can learn new dialects.

New research out of SeaWorld San Diego suggests killer whales can learn new sound patterns from orcas outside their social group.

That's right, orcas have dialects. In the wild, members of different pods make distinct sounds. Scientists suspect orcas might use these dialects to distinguish who's in their group and who's an outsider.

Photo by Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute

Research on Sea World's captive orcas suggests killer whales can learn dialects from outside their own social group.

But orcas aren't stuck with one dialect for life according to Ann Bowles, researcher at the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.

In a small study published this week, she observed two young orcas at SeaWorld picking up new sounds. They seemed to learn them by socializing with an unrelated adult who had a different repertoire of noises.

"This is not a particularly normal thing in mammals," Bowles notes. "We really don't know much about who they learn from, how they learn, why they learn. Why are these guys different from a dog or a cat, that doesn't have a dialect?"

In recent years, SeaWorld has come under fire for using orcas in theme park shows. But Sea World contends keeping orcas in captivity is necessary for research like this.

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