Visual Displays for Communication in Cetaceans

  • Bernd Würsig
  • Thomas R. Kieckhefer
  • Thomas A. Jefferson
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (NSSA, volume 196)


Social mammals use facial signals and body postures, often highlighted by coloration, for well-developed visual communication. African forest monkeys (Cercopithecus sp.), for example, display an impressive repertoire of stereotyped head movements and facial expressions for courtship, aggression, fear, and appeasement (Kingdon, 1980). Thomson’s gazelles (Gazella thornsoni) rapidly alert conspecifics to danger by a tense, upright stance, directed gaze, and often a twitching of their edge-receptive flank, which is marked with an eye-catching black longitudinal stripe (Estes, 1967; Walther, 1969). This sequence of subtle body movements produces a “Morse code” of visual information about the potential threat of an approaching predator. To the untrained observer only obvious alarm signals and warnings, such as running and stotting (a stiff-legged, bounding gait), are appreciable (Caro, 1988). It recently has been found that some mammalian species display different warning signals for different predators (Seyfarth et al., 1980; Sherman, 1985), and this extra sophistication beyond mere communication of danger is probably widespread among animals.


Killer Whale Visual Communication Sperm Whale Humpback Whale Baleen Whale 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernd Würsig
    • 1
  • Thomas R. Kieckhefer
    • 2
  • Thomas A. Jefferson
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Mammal Research Program, Department of Marine BiologyTexas A&M University at GalvestonGalvestonUSA
  2. 2.Moss Landing Marine LaboratoriesMoss LandingUSA

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