Scientists from the Center for Whale Research in Washington State, USA and the UK’s University of Exeter have published a study demonstrating the close and complex social structure that Orcas form.
The study was based on 651 minutes of drone footage of southern resident Orcas and showed that Orcas in a pod appeared to favor interacting with those of a similar age and sex within the pod. But they don’t treat all the other whales equally. Within the groups, individuals favor other specific individuals, forming little friendship cliques.
Researchers also found that as the whales grow older, these bonds seem to break, and the friendship groups seem to grow apart.
The study lead author Michael Weiss from the University of Exeter commented on the new findings:
“Until now, research on killer whale social networks has relied on seeing the whales when they surface, and recording which whales are together. Looking down into the water from a drone allowed us to see details such as contact between individual whales.”
“Our findings show that, even within these tight-knit groups, whales prefer to interact with specific individuals. It’s like when your mum takes you to a party as a kid – you didn’t choose the party, but you can still choose who to hang out with once you’re there.”
You can see some of the drone footage in the video below.