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New evidence that sperm whales form clans with diverse cultures, languages

‘Sperm whales share something fundamental with humans. Both of our species form groups with unique languages and traditions known as “cultures.” A new study of sperm whale groups in the Caribbean suggests that these animals are shaped profoundly by their culture, which governs everything from hunting patterns to babysitting techniques. Whale researcher Shane Gero, who has spent thousands of hours with sperm whales, says that whale culture leads to behaviors that are “uncoupled from natural selection.”

Gero and his colleagues recently published a paper on Caribbean whale culture in Royal Society Open Science, in which they describe the discovery of a new clan. Though this clan may have lived in the Caribbean for centuries, it’s just coming to light now because sperm whales live and hunt in vast territories. This makes them hard to track. Like many scientists who study these wide-ranging creatures, Gero observes them by lowering specialized microphones into the water and recording the sounds they make to communicate.

Scientists working throughout the world have identified 80 unique “codas,” the sperm whale equivalent of words, which they produce by emitting sounds called clicks. Each sperm whale clan has its own dialect, a unique repertoire of codas shared only with the other families who make up their clan. In the Pacific, there are five known dialect clans, and many of them co-exist in the same general regions without ever interacting. Atlantic whales have their own dialects too, and in the Caribbean there are two known clans…’

Source: Ars Technica