According to recent research, sperm whales off the Galapagos Islands have divided into groups, each with its own dialect, which suggests that they too share a ”culture”.
The study was published on Tuesday in the ”Nature Communications” journal and it shows that female sperm whales, together with their calves, organize themselves based on elements they have in common, such as the clicks they make when they communicate. Adult males, on the other hand, prefer to stay near the poles, in colder waters.
Researchers had observed for more than 30 years that whales tend to group themselves into clans, but now a possible explanation has been found for their behavior.
It appears that when deep diving whales spend time together, they go through a process of ”biased social learning”. At the same time, they seek the vicinity of those sharing identical communication patterns, but they also learn dominant sounds and conform to the behavior of others, in order to be accepted by that clan.
Basically, those which display similar behavior and emit the same clicks called “codas” are more likely to remain as part of the same group. Speaking a ”common language” is the unifying factor which allows sperm whales to develop social interactions and integrate themselves into a community.
Experts conducted computer simulations using sperm whale recordings collected intermittently with an underwater microphone in the Galapagos since 1985, in order to discover the factors involved in creating clans. They identified 2 separate dialects for 2 different clans: one of the codas involved regularly distributed clicks, while the other one featured a long pause before the last click.
They concluded that being genetically related or sharing information with the calves aren’t the only things motivating the deep-diving mammals to be part of a certain group.
It had already been established that female sperm whales form communities based on family relations, attaching themselves to their mothers and offspring, but other elements are at play. What these mammals seek is the companionship of similar creatures, which use the same language as them, in order to develop closer bonds.
These findings add weight to the theory that animals too can establish their own culture, explains study author Mauricio Cantor, marine biologist at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Canada.
Although it may seem mind-boggling that sperm whales share a characteristic which we believed was inherently human, this isn’t the first time nature has surprised us. Humpback whales learn feeding behaviors from each other, chimpanzees teach one another how to make and use tools, while killer whale pods develop their own dialects.
The authors of the study have decided to continue their research by analyzing data collected throughout the years more in depth, in order to determine if the vocalizations have changed over time, just like human languages tend to evolve. Their aim is to establish if patterns that have been identified so far will continue and if sperm whales sharing the same codas will maintain their social hierarchies.
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