Dolphins’, Whales’ Cultures and Societies are Human-like

A new scientific study has demonstrated what many have suspected for decades: dolphins and whales have complex cultural and societal communities that mimic those of humans, including working together for mutual benefit…

 


 

Whales and dolphins have rich ‘human-like’ cultures and societies

Whales and dolphins (cetaceans) live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, talk to each other and even have regional dialects — much like human societies. A major new study has linked the complexity of Cetacean culture and behavior to the size of their brains.

A major new study, published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution (Monday 16th October), has linked the complexity of Cetacean culture and behaviour to the size of their brains.

The research was a collaboration between scientists at The University of Manchester, The University of British Columbia, Canada, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Stanford University, United States.

The study is first of its kind to create a large dataset of cetacean brain size and social behaviours. The team compiled information on 90 different species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. It found overwhelming evidence that Cetaceans have sophisticated social and cooperative behaviour traits, similar to many found in human culture.

The study demonstrates that these societal and cultural characteristics are linked with brain size and brain expansion — also known as encephalisation.

The long list of behavioural similarities includes many traits shared with humans and other primates such as:

  • complex alliance relationships — working together for mutual benefit
  • social transfer of hunting techniques — teaching how to hunt and using tools
  • cooperative hunting
  • complex vocalizations, including regional group dialects — ‘talking’ to each other
  • vocal mimicry and ‘signature whistles’ unique to individuals — using ‘name’ recognition
  • interspecific cooperation with humans and other species — working with different species
  • alloparenting — looking after youngsters that aren’t their own
  • social play

 

Journal Reference: Kieran C. R. Fox, Michael Muthukrishna, Susanne Shultz. The social and cultural roots of whale and dolphin brains. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0336-y


 

KW