Study Says Whales Have Their Own Dialects

Sep 14, 2015 11:42 PM EDT | By Maria Leonila Masculino

A new study found out that sperm whales, just like killer whales, birds and chimpanzees can adopt cultural behaviors.  In fact, just like humans, these sea mammals can learn their own dialects.

Published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, scientists had discovered that sperm whales are organized by clans. The groups each have distinctive "codas" that they use to communicate with each other.

This "social learning" is developed by sperm whales that naturally pick up similar behaviors from other members of the clan. According to scientists, whales that "speak the same language" stick together.

Mauricio Cantor, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada and the study's lead author had been observing the whales' cultural behaviors for 30 years with his colleagues. Although genetic relatedness and transmission of information from mother to offspring couldn't exactly explain the whales' behavioral patterns, Cantor and his group have concluded that "like-minded" individuals learned vocalizations from each other.

"Providing evidence that the processes generating the complex and diverse cultures in human populations could also be at play in non-human societies is a crucial step towards evaluating the contrasts and convergences between human and non-human cultures," researchers wrote.

This fascinating result shows that not only humans possess diverse communication skills.  "We're not that different from them," Cantor told National Georgraphic.

After 30 years of observation in Galapagos Islands, thousands of female sperm whales and their calves are grouped into clans (as mature males settle in colder waters near poles). Now, the researchers are planning to compare the data acquired 30 years ago with the present. "We want to know how their [vocalizations have] changed over time," he added.

In other news, another group just recently had a much closer encounter with a whale. On Saturday in Monterey Bay's Moss Landing Harbor, a massive humpback whale was caught on video as it breached and landed over a kayak with two people.


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