Sperm Whales' Clicking Dialect May Prove They Have Culture like Humans

First Posted: Sep 09, 2015 07:38 AM EDT

Do whales have culture? That may just be the case. Scientists believe they have new insights into the different dialects used by groups of sperm whales.

Whales are some of the most intelligent animals in the world. They have complex play behavior, the ability to learn, and even the ability to plan. While the sperm whale has the largest brain of any animal of the world, though, it's not usually considered one of the more intelligent cetaceans. However, it does appear to have accents.

It this "accent" that may help keep sperm groups together and may be part of culture. Each group has a distinct series of clicks called codas that they use to communicate during social interactions. When similar sperm whales spend time with each other, they actually pick up vocalizations from each other, showing a type of social learning.

The researchers learned this after using a dataset collected over 18 years of vocalizations made by sperm whales swimming around the Galapagos Islands. While the whales all lived in the same general geographic area, each whale clan had distinct codas. The researchers especially noticed this when clans didn't mix

"They behave differently, they move around differently; they babysit their babies differently," said Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie, one of the researchers, in an interview with BBC News. "And so while a family unit from the regular clan will get together with another family unit from the same clan, sometimes for days-and the same for the plus-ones-we've never seen a regular unit associate with a plus-one unit."

The findings reveal a bit more about these animals and show that when it comes to forming culture, whales may just have it.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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