Calling under pressure: Short-finned pilot whales make social calls during deep foraging dives

Frants H. Jensen, Jacobo Marrero Perez, Mark Johnson, Natacha Aguilar Soto, Peter T. Madsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Toothed whales rely on sound to echolocate prey and communicate with conspecifics, but little is known about how extreme pressure affects pneumatic sound production in deep-diving species with a limited air supply. The short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) is a highly social species among the deep-diving toothed whales, in which individuals socialize at the surface but leave their social group in pursuit of prey at depths of up to 1000 m. To investigate if these animals communicate acoustically at depth and test whether hydrostatic pressure affects communication signals, acoustic DTAGs logging sound, depth and orientation were attached to 12 pilot whales. Tagged whales produced tonal calls during deep foraging dives at depths of up to 800 m. Mean call output and duration decreased with depth despite the increased distance to conspecifics at the surface. This shows that the energy content of calls is lower at depths where lungs are collapsed and where the air volume available for sound generation is limited by ambient pressure. Frequency content was unaffected, providing a possible cue for group or species identification of diving whales. Social calls may be important to maintain social ties for foraging animals, but may be impacted adversely by vessel noise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3017-3025
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1721
StatePublished - Oct 22 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Acoustic tags
  • Communication
  • Ecophysiology
  • Pilot whales
  • Social organization
  • Sound production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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