Clever Pilot Whales Fool Their Rivals

Study suggests they mimic killer whales
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2020 10:50 AM CST
Pilot Whales Have Tricky Way to Fool Enemies
Pilot whales in southern Australia appear to mimic predator killer whales to fool them.   (Getty/eco2drew)

Pilot whales in southern Australia appear to have developed a nifty technique for fooling rival killer whales—they pretend they're killer whales themselves. Researchers studied the calls of long-finned pilot whales in the region and found that the creatures mimic their larger rivals, reports ScienceDaily. In their study at Scientific Reports, the researchers say the pilot whales may be doing so "to mask themselves, acting as an anti-predator mechanism, whilst allowing them to scavenge food remnants from killer whales." While it doesn't appear to be common for killer whales to attack the smaller whales as prey, the two are at the very least food rivals.

"This mimicry may be a clever strategy employed by the whales in order to disguise themselves," says lead researcher Rachael Courts of the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Australia's Curtin University. Another notable discovery: The researchers found evidence of "duetting" among pilot whales. As in, one whale emits a call and a second whale responds, leading to "alternating or overlapping" vocalizations, the study explains. The phenomenon is common in songbirds but is thought to be rare among marine creatures. (Whales face an unusual threat in the form of lobster traps.)

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