A recent study reveals how understanding cultural diversity amongst whales may help ensure their survival. The idea that whales could sustain a culture is a relatively recent hypothesis. It was not until the late 1960s that the recordings of humpback whale songs provided a glimpse into cetacean communication. However, over the last decade, two pods found off North America’s west coast were found to have different dialects and feeding habits.
Sperm whales live in small social units linked by maternal lineage, and form larger groups only with other units from the same clan. In the Pacific, these groups are large and tightly linked. In the Atlantic, they’re small and loosely distributed. Vocalizations vary widely between groups, as do their habits, from hunting patterns to babysitting, yet their genes are very much alike. Similarly, killer whales have highly varied dialects and ways of life, even while sharing the same habitat — the aquatic equivalent of a neighborhood populated by two different ethnic groups.
Image: "Save the Whales"by nestor galina on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.