Sperm Whales Have Local Dialects, New Study Shows


Published:

©Day Donaldson via Flickr CC

A sperm whale’s “click” is the loudest sound produced by any animal – and it has an identifying dialect. In fact, according to a study published in Nature Communications, the whales aren’t born with different vocal chords or a bit of the sea particularly suited to a certain kind of click. They simply acquire their dialects from one another in the same way you or I might have taken on our parents' accent – by copying what they hear.

Sperm whales aren’t the only animals who learn like this. I have spent time with bottlenose dolphins, for instance, in many different locations around the world. One thing that has always struck me is that while these dolphins tend to do the same thing – such as hunt fish or play together – the way they do this can differ quite drastically between populations.

In the late 1990s, Andy Whiten best articulated this “feeling” that field biologists have had for a long time in his study of chimpanzees, the first systematic look at behavioural differences between populations.

Whiten and colleagues showed different groups of chimps did the same thing in drastically different ways, for example the way they used tools to catch ants. These differences spanned the whole activity repertoire of chimpanzees and the authors posited that the best way to explain this variation was simple: chimpanzees have culture.

Are animals born cultured?

This discovery started the “culture wars”, largely between animal behaviourists and anthropologists, a debate which raised the question of when we could talk about cultural variations in animal behaviour.

A scientific approach is to make predictions we can challenge with experiments and observations. For animals to have culture, the observed differences must not be explained by any other mechanisms. The first mechanism is simply genetics: these differences could be “hardwired” in the genetic differences between populations. The second mechanism is landscape differences: for example, a monkey will not be able to crack nuts with a rock if there are no rocks to hand. So the observed differences cannot be caused by the lack of opportunity or need caused by the animal’s environment.

Since Whiten’s work, many people have registered differences in behaviour in a wide range of species, which we cannot attribute to these two factors. For example, the detailed genetic work of Michael Kruetzen and his team has helped to dispel the “hardwiring” argument for tool use in dolphins.

 


A single ‘sponging Eve’ learned to use a sponge to protect her beak – and passed the tip on to the next generation.

 

Cultural differences are something we pick up from others and pass on, it is a social process. We acquire cultural habits from our social circles and importantly by not being exposed to the way other groups do the same thing. So in order for behavioural differences to be culture, they need to be socially learned. Social learning is again a process we now know exist in many of the species we suspect have culture.

Culture can also be a hindrance to forming social relationships; in our case the simple language barrier is often limiting the social interactions individuals can have. So culture and social structure are intertwined in some ways: you are more likely to pick up the habits of individuals with whom you interact; and the more you pick up these habits, the harder it becomes to interact with others outside your group.

One big ocean – so why the different clans?

Back to whales. In the latest study, Maurício Cantor, Hal Whitehead and their colleagues show that cultural difference is the best way to explain why sperm whales live in multilevel societies. This social structure is best described as having several levels of organisation. In the case of sperm whales, individuals live with their extended families, which belong to clans. Whitehead, along with his colleagues, has elegantly shown over the past two decades that it is hard to explain the differences we observed between sperm whale clans without invoking culture.

In their new work, they show these clans are not just a passive aggregation of genetically related families. We need to invoke the influence of socially learned dialects in order to explain the observed clans which Whitehead has been following for two decades. This happened if individuals not only learned from others, but conformed to the most used dialect in their group. So clans are more likely to form because sperm whales learn dialects from their extended family. Multi-level societies emerge from cultural differences and this is another piece of evidence pointing at animal culture.

So, animals have culture. Is that culture going to look the same as ours? No. Imagine spending your time underwater with limited vision, but great hearing, and a hankering for squid. The way you are going to interact with others is going to be different, what you can do with your environment is going to be different, your opportunities are going to be different.

Different does not mean a “lesser culture”. It means that we have to work hard to leave our human references to understand that culture. Sperm whales learn from others' habits, and dialects, which are going to shape their lives and influence the structure of their societies. Their culture is unique, so is ours, and the culture of bottlenose dolphins and chimpanzees.

David Lusseau is a MASTS Senior Lecturer in Marine Top Predator Biology, University of Aberdeen.

See also:
EarthTalk: Do Animals Have Legal Rights?
EarthTalk: Navy Sonar

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

October 20, 2019

The busy feel of the weekend is reflected in the skies overhead. The Cancer Moon passes by her North Node, the symbolic pathway into the future. Trust in your instincts and heartfelt passions. Time-honored values and loyalties persist! The Moon is also…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2019

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

A beautiful collection of messages from Jeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) that will transform your life, as it did his. Coming together to study these teachings, to ponder, to savor, to deepen our...

Cost: $25 per class

Where:
Heart and Soul Holistic Healing Center
130 Massapoag Avenue
Sharon, MA  02067
View map »


Sponsor: Heart and Soul Holistic
Telephone: 781-258-9942
Contact Name: Barbara Ann Strassman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Free Evidence-Based Holistic Health Education Program at Wilbraham Senior Center The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation), created and instructed by Michelle...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

October 23 & 30, 2019, 7–9pm Instructor: Judith A. Swack, Ph.D. Register at http://www.newtoncommunityed.org Do you have a fear of flying, heights, public speaking or other...

Where:
Needham, MA


Sponsor: Healing from the Body Level Up
Telephone: (800) 310-6549 / (781) 444-6940
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

It's everyone's favorite night! Eat, drink, laugh, dance, connect and meet providers! Women's health seminars  Mini spa treatments  All-natural...

Cost: Free

Where:
Groton Wellness
493-495 Main Street
Groton, MA  01450
View map »


Sponsor: Groton Wellness
Telephone: 978-449-9919
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Attend a brand new class on awaking and accessing your authentic self! We are brought up in a world where it is difficult to know how to connect to, and express our whole and authentic selves....

Cost: $45

Where:
The Graduate Institute
171 Amity Rd
Bethany, CT  06524-3435
View map »


Sponsor: The Graduate Institute
Telephone: 203-874-4252
Contact Name: The Graduate Institute
Website »

More information

Prana Vidya is a powerful Yogic technique, based on scientific principles, that helps us connect to the most fundamental, throbbing energy of the cosmos. The system uses the concept of Chakras, to...

Cost: $40 before Oct 22 ($45 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

We are proud to welcome Swami Maheshananada Saraswati, a world- renowned Yogi to Boston after 10 years.  Swami Mahesh is a wandering yogi from India. He has a degree in engineering and a...

Where:
SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street
Suite 108B
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Consciousness does not just passively reflect the objective material world; it plays an active role in creating reality itself.” —Stanislav Grof MD, from The Holotropic Mind...

Cost: $150. $175 after October 19

Where:
Unity Somerville
6 William Street
Somerville, MA  02144
View map »


Sponsor: Allen Howell, M.Ed. LMHC
Website »

More information

October 26th and 27th Deepen your knowledge and practice of Reiki. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (Master-Teacher) This two-day Level II Training enhances your...

Cost: $250

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

Prana is the universal life force, the essence of all motion, and the basis of all manifestation in the Cosmos. It is the essence of life and existence itself. The yogis and the Seers have...

Cost: $45 before 10/22 ($50 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Yoga is a science of total health and harmony. The science of Yoga is dedicated to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing of mankind. A proper approach to yoga brings...

Cost: $40 before 10/22 ($45 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

We are excited in the midst of our favorite holiday season! Join us for an evening workshop preparing your own take home potion and lotions. As we prepare for the close of the next harvest and...

Cost: $30 pre-reg. or $35 at the door

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers — Heaven and Earth
68 Stile Rd.
Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey
Website »

More information

Mount Kailash, the Crown Chakra of the Earth, the abode of Lord Shiva and the Holiest pilgrimage for Hindus! Located at 18,000ft in High Himalayas, Mt Kailash is as real as it is mythical and...

Cost: pay-what-you-want ($20 recommended)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

October 26–27 Weekend workshop with David Dalton, founder of Delta Gardens. Explore the art of vibrational flower and gem essence healing with a master crafter of essences. Email...

Cost: $360

Where:
Roots to Wings
Newbury, MA


Telephone: (603) 601-6929
Website »

More information

October 26–27 Saturday 9:30–10 am registration, 10 am–5 pm class Sunday 10 am–5 pm class This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
Spirit Dancer Books & Gifts
125 South Winooski Ave
Burlington, VT  05401
View map »


Telephone: 617-366-6042
Website »

More information

With Nicci Goot Build a foundation of essential virtues for developing altruism, compassion and loving kindness for living a life of harmony and joy. 4 session-program

Where:
State of Grace Yoga
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

We are proud to welcome Swami Maheshananada Saraswati, a world- renowned Yogi to Boston after 10 years.  Swami Mahesh is a wandering yogi from India. He has a degree in engineering and a...

Where:
SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street
Suite 108B
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: SOHUM Yoga and Meditation Studio
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags