Do killer whales have close friends? Drone footage reveals their secret

Posted by David Henning on 22 June 2021

Recent drone footage from a study published in the Royal Society revealed that killer whales or orcas have social lives with friendships strikingly similar to our own, Science Alert reports.

A single pod of 22 orcas were tracked for 10 days and researchers observed a complex set of relationships, including close friendships.

Orcas tend to live their entire lives in the pod they were born into, and often form their own cliques or set of preferences for specific individuals. Over the course of their lives, their relationships with other Orcas in the pod tend to come and go.

In the drone footage, certain orcas showed a preference for others, choosing to surface with them and touch them more than others.

Researchers take these as signs of cooperation and social affiliation, indicating strong bonds, where even within tightly knit pods, orcas prefer to interact with certain individuals.

Gauging the physical contact within the pod, young females tend to be the life of the party, playing a central role in the groups social network.

The researchers cannot say for sure why it is but suggest that the adult male orcas spend more time foraging and less time socialising to maintain their large bodies.

Young orcas tend to be nursed by their mothers and fed prey by others. This frees up the time to play and interact with other young orcas in the pod. Darren Croft from the University of Exeter was fascinated by the parallels he noticed between these animals and humans.

He comments that in humans, physical contact tends to be soothing and stress relieving which reinforces the social connection. On the occasions the orcas surfaced killer whales surfaced together, acting in unison – it is seen as a sign of social ties within species.

An interesting parallel observed has to do with age. The older the Orca, the less social they appeared in the footage. this aligns with the behaviour of other social mammals, who tend to become less social with age, including humans

More research needs to be done to affirm the observations made but the results suggest that we weren’t looking deep enough. Most research has been limited to sightings on the surface of the ocean, where the drone footage captured glimpses of the Orcas below the surface too.

Also Read:

First-ever acoustic recording of orca in South Africa captured in Fish Hoek

Picture: Unsplash

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