How intelligent are orca whales

Social behavior and intelligence

Only males roam the oceans alone outside of the mating season. A fantastic communication system enables the animals to understand themselves over great distances. Clicks, tones and even real chants are part of the marine mammal repertoire. Toothed whales such as dolphins are especially sociable. That's why many think she's very smart.

The social life of the whales

Living in a group has some advantages, but also disadvantages. The problem for large animals is that they have to share the feed. But for most whale species, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Even if attacks are not to be feared too often given the size of the animals, many whales help each other when threatened. Sperm whales and other toothed whales also share the supervision of the offspring. "Aunts" stay on the surface with the boys, while mothers hunt in the deep and vice versa.

Some species use sophisticated techniques to conduct real driven hunts. In addition to several toothed whales, this behavior can also be observed in humpback whales.

They form loose groups of ten to 15 animals, dive under schools of fish and hold them together with a veil of air bubbles. If, for example, a school of mackerel is herded together in a very confined space, eating is just child's play for the sea giants.

Belugas: "Canaries of the Seas"

It is still unclear whether or to what extent whales will communicate when hunting together. In any case, whales have a variety of means of communication. They communicate primarily through noises that they make themselves or through the hitting of their fins on the surface of the water.

Toothed whales produce two different types of sounds: whistles and clicks in the ultrasonic range. They are not only used for communication, but also for orientation by means of echolocation. The belugas in particular are known for their varied screaming, chirping and squeaking tones, which is why they are also known as the "canaries of the seas".

Whales communicate over thousands of kilometers

Baleen whales emit different, much deeper sounds than most toothed whales. The calls of the very large baleen whales are in the inaudible infrasound range for humans. The calls of the Greenland, Fin and Blue whales can reach 180 decibels in the water.

With these loud calls, the animals can communicate over thousands of kilometers. This also makes sense in view of the vast marine areas that the animals wander through.

Some researchers believe that the great baleen whales used to be able to communicate with each other across the globe before they were disturbed by the increasingly louder human noise.

Whale song only for females?

Humpback whales not only emit short sounds, but also communicate using coherent melodies that last for up to several hours.

These "chants" are among the most complex forms of communication in the animal kingdom. The chants consist of several varying partial stanzas, stanzas and larger themes. It all adds up to a song that the humpback whales repeat several times.

Why the humpback whales sing is still a mystery. Since the chants come exclusively from males during the mating season, researchers believe that they may attract females or coordinate with competitors.

Orcas with karate punch

Some whale species seem not only to nurture their offspring, but also to properly educate them. Off the Australian coast, some dolphins protect their cubs from the spines of sea urchins with a sponge in front of the snout when they dig in the bottom. Dolphin mothers then teach their young how to properly use the sponge themselves.

The New Zealand marine biologist Ingrid Visser was able to observe amazing lessons with killer whales. To get a seal off an ice floe, the orcas use a sophisticated technique: one animal holds the floe in position while several other orcas swim on it in parallel.

They generate such a powerful wave that the floe sways and the seal is washed off the ice floe. Young killer whales learn these tricks from adults.

The orcas don't shy away from sharks either. They also regularly prey on large, fully grown specimens. To do this, they lift their tail fin out of the water and - like a karate blow - hit the shark with the flat side first from above in the middle of the shark, which then drifts unconscious or at least disoriented in the water.

The older killer whales train their young on helpless unconscious sharks at an early age, too.

Dressage: Dolphins capable of learning

Whales not only pass on their knowledge or skills in the group, but can also be trained excellently. Dolphins in particular can learn amazing tricks. In shows, they swim through hoops, dance, wave and even produce air rings underwater.

The animals seem at least not completely unwilling to perform the feats. Some wild dolphins in Australia now voluntarily walk across the water on their tail fin. They learned the trick from their conspecific "Billie", who spent three weeks in captivity with trained dolphins.

The US Navy also benefits from the dolphins' ability to learn. She has been training dolphins and sea lions for very special tasks since the 1960s. The animals are trained to track down foreign combat swimmers, divers and underwater mines. In the Iraq war, dolphins were even used once in an emergency for mine clearance.

Whales and dolphins are no smarter than other animals

Cetaceans have exceptionally large brains, the sperm whale even the heaviest in the entire animal kingdom. Nevertheless, scientific research has not yet been able to confirm the proverbial wisdom of whales and dolphins. Their giant brains are less networked and more simply structured than those of land animals.

Whales and especially dolphins can be trained very well. In tests of abstraction ability - the basis of intelligent behavior - however, they did not do so well. In no area was their performance better than that of pigeons or rats.

Although whales and dolphins behave amazingly, they are not much more intelligent than other animals. But at least dolphins seem to be self-aware, as illustrated by their reactions to their own reflection in the mirror.