Moby Dick's Nightmare: Prehistoric Monster Killer Whale Off Peru
Life on Saturn's Titan: UV Rays Used to Simulate Life's Building Blocks

Whale Speak: Language Key to Their Culture


BlueWhale

Scientists are starting to consider the notion that whales might have a pretty cool culture. Maybe the Great White Whale was smarter than Ahab.

"Whales are pretty hard to study, but evidence is coming up from quite a number of species that in a whole range of ways, they're learning things from each other and they're passing it on to other whales, and that's culture," says Hal Whitehead, biology professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Whitehead says whales don't have opposable thumbs, so they can't craft material objects to pass on through the generations: "Whale cultures are in their minds and not in the things that they make."

"Whale culture has, like human culture, a range of types and styles," says Whitehead. "At one end, there are the fast moving what might be called 'pop' cultures," such as when male Humpback whales sing songs to attract females or ward off other males. "These songs evolve, so that at the beginning of the breeding season they're all singing one song and then it's changed a bit by the end," says Whitehead. "And after a couple of years they're singing a totally different song."

But other whale languages are more constant and enduring. The dialects of killer whales, which travel in large extended-family groups called pods, "seem to change much more slowly and to be linked to particular social structures," says Whitehead. "A particular pod will have its own dialect, and that dialect will be similar to pods which are the members of the same clan, and clans will have dialects which are different from one another—just as humans from different parts of the same country may sound a bit different, but humans from different countries may be totally unintelligible to each other," says Whitehead. And these dialects will be stable. "In sperm whales which we study, we can record a group of sperm whales now, we can record them ten years from now, and we won't notice any difference in the sounds they're making."

Whitehead notes that different pods of whales can have distinctly different sets of behaviors and languages even though they share territory. "We find this situation where we have multi-cultural societies," he says. "In one place, there are animals who make their living in very different ways."

Sperm whales off the Galapagos islands have two distinct ways of speaking. These whales speak in a series of clicks, but some of them often add a pause and a final "click." Where this is important, says Whitehead, is that depending upon the weather, one group may survive better than the other. He notes that the whales with the last click accent seem to thrive in El Nino years, when the water is much warmer, while the group without the accent prefers the colder waters of normal years.

Sperm whale clans appear to have distinct cultures and dialects. Some of these clans are itinerant, traveling great distances in short periods of time; others appear to be sedentary, remaining in one place for days. Whitehead transcribes the variation in vocalizations between clans. Group A: "Click-Click-Click-Click-Click," Group G "Click-Click-Click-Click-pause-Click," Group T "Click-Click-pause-Click-Click." These codas are preserved across the ocean and over time, each repertoire "a group property." Cultural inheritance in sperm whales is not only observed in their clicks and pauses but also in the variation in foraging patterns, synchronized dives, even defecation rates. To Whitehead, clan identity is similar to nationality in humans. Membership in a dominant clan can increase the chances of survival and of reproduction.

Humpback whales also show evidence of cultural transmission. In any year, whales sing identical songs in Hawaii and Mexico, breeding areas that are 4,500 kilometers apart. How do they manage this? Perhaps they hear the songs across long distances or learn them during the summer months, when different groups gather in the north to feed. More remarkable than the geographic consistency is the change in calls over time. Slight variations in the songs occur each year. But, as with evolution, these changes can make huge leaps in a short time. The Australian biologist Mike Noad and colleagues found evidence of a ‘cultural revolution’ in the Southern Hemisphere. In 1996 two male humpbacks from the Indian Ocean arrived in the Pacific with a new song. Within two years, all the Pacific males had changed their tune, picking up the migrants’ songs.

Why did the song change? It's not clear, but what is clear is that whales have a sophisticated culture. And who knows, it may be a culture that provides them with the tools to outlive that ofhomo sapiens. The fact that they took the opposite revolutionary route of human's by going from land to sea 50 million years ago.was a stroke of genius. After all, this the water planet.

As evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin points out, "In one sense, evolution didn't invent anything new with whales. It was just tinkering with land mammals. It's using the old to make the new."

Posted by Casey Kazan.

This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

http://www.oceania.org.au/soundnet/features/culture.html

http://www.eoearth.org/article/Whale_communication_and_culture

Comments

This is one of the coolest things i've heard of lately. Social intelligence that they all have their individuality or groups that they belong to. Just goes to show you that they really know whats going on. Theyre not as stupid as we think. I even heard I think that dolphins make can make fun of you. Now were even ruining their world with all oil. Gosh were jerks. Karma is a b#@#h though in my oppinion.

So whales have language and culture?
Could someone remind me why we think we are above animals?

Despite you 'headline grabbing' attempt to anthropormorphize whales minor variations in behavior does not amount to a 'culture'.

Actually a completely different song in a matter of one season after its introduction by two new whales is pretty clearly culture and dramatic cultural change. It may seem like a 'minor variation' to you only if you look at it from a narrow human-centric viewpoint.

Actually a completely different song in a matter of one season after its introduction by two new whales is pretty clearly culture and dramatic cultural change. It may seem like a 'minor variation' to you only if you look at it from a narrow human-centric viewpoint.

Actually a completely different song in a matter of one season after its introduction by two new whales is pretty clearly culture and dramatic cultural change. It may seem like a 'minor variation' to you only if you look at it from a narrow human-centric viewpoint.

i love our whale brethern. forgive our human shortcomings. you own most of our planet. we are barbarians.

These songs evolve, so that at the beginning of the breeding season they're all singing one song and then it's changed a bit by the end

whales are without hands to form stable tools of matter to express their mind and enhance their way of living. they have instead developed an enhanced social communication ability which proves their scientific reasoning is inferior to mankind. I am not impressed by sound wave communication without science because it may be similar to the insects. The ability for men to write books and discover laws of nature required having usable hands and making paper from trees.

One Sunday womens timberland boots morning, I was told that someone was waiting for me in timberland 6 boots office. The young person who answered the rectory timberland boots door said that it was "the woman who said she left all the notes." When I saw her mens timberland boots I was shocked, since I immediately recognized her from church but had no timberland boots outlet idea that it was she who wrote the notes. She was sitting in a chair in timberland roll top boots office with her hands folded in her lap. Her head was bowed and when she raised white timberland boots it to look at me, she could barely smile without pain. Her face was disfigured, and timberland classic boat skin so tight from surgical procedures that smiling or laughing was very difficult for her timberland kids waterproof boots . She had suffered terribly from treatment to remove the growths timberland shoes that had so marred her face. We chatted for a while that Sunday morning and agreed to meet for timberland womens premium boots lunch later that week. As it turned out we went to lunch several timberland boots women times, and she always wore a hat during the meal. I think that treatments of some timberland shoe company sort had caused a lot of her hair to fall out. We shared things about our lives. I told her about my women timberland shoes schooling and growing up. She told me that she had worked for timberland 6 inch years for an insurance company. She never mentioned family, and I did not ask. I have thought about her timberland mens custom often over the years and how she struggled in a society that places an incredible premium on looks, class, wealth and all the other fineries of life. She suffered from a disfigurement that cannot be made to look attractive. I know that her condition black timberland boots hurt her deeply.CLS http://www.timberland6inch.com/

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)