You Can Learn to Identify Orca Calls

You can’t tell by just looking at a group of orcas, but they actually travel in pods, which are family groups. There are three pods of resident orcas, or killer whales, which live in the Salish Sea. These groups are known as J, K and L pods. Each pod uses specific calls or combinations of calls to communicate with each other. These calls can also be used to identify them as a group. You can learn to identify these calls—it just takes practice.

Listen to the top ten calls and call combinations used by Southern Resident Orcas. One way to remember these calls is to match each one with a sound you already know. Do you agree with the descriptions we chose for each sound?

Call Library

Call

Play

Sounds like

S1

Play this orca call

A cowboy saying "Yee-haw!"
Used mostly by J Pod but shared by all 3 [Spectrogram]

S2i

Play this orca call

"A-Whee!"
Used by J Pod [Spectrogram]

S2iii

Play this orca call

Wiping down wet glass
Used by J Pod and L Pod [Spectrogram]

S4

Play this orca call

A duck quack
Used mostly by J Pod and K Pod [Spectrogram]

S16

Play this orca call

A kitten's "mew"
Used mostly by K Pod but shared by all 3. If heard with S17 it’s K Pod [Spectrogram]

S17

Play this orca call

A double kitten "mew, mew"
Used by K Pod exclusively [Spectrogram]

S18

Play this orca call

A jungle bird
Used by L Pod exclusively [Spectrogram]

S19

Play this orca call

A slide whistle
Used by L Pod exclusively [Spectrogram]

S22

Play this orca call

"Hey, look!"
Used by L Pod exclusively [Spectrogram]

S36

Play this orca call

A donkey
Used mostly by K Pod and L Pods [Spectrogram]

Other sounds

By listening to the hydrophones, researchers hope to learn:

  • Which orcas are moving through the Salish Sea?
  • Where are orcas headed at different times of the year?
  • What other underwater noises do we commonly hear?