Over the past decade, researchers have determined that false killer whales around the Hawaiian Islands have three distinct populations, one of which is endangered. In a collaborative effort led by Yvonne Barkley, researchers recently used underwater microphones to investigate their whistle vocalizations. They examined these vocalizations to see if they could distinguish between each population. Learning more about the complexity or diversity of their calls would help scientists study their social behavior and support the species’ protection.
False killer whales are a large, highly social dolphin species found throughout the Hawaiian archipelago. A combination of photographic, genetic, and satellite tag data determined that the three populations are genetically distinct and sympatric. This means each population is genetically different within the same geographic area:
The endangered population associated with the main Hawaiian Islands.
A population associated with the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
A pelagic population dispersed throughout offshore waters.
Scientists do not yet know the exact reasons why these false killer whale species separated.