Our subject is whales and dolphins. They are the members of Cetacea, a clade of sea mammals. A new research shows these mammal cousins of us live in tightly bonded social groups like humans, talk to each other, and even have regional dialects.
The study is first of its kind in terms of extent. Researchers examined 90 different species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises with the aim of compiling a large dataset of cetacean brain size and social behaviours. The team was also surprised to see a cultural and social communication network beyond their estimates.
Whales and dolphins have a considerable amount of common characteristics with humans and other primates, including:
- complex cooperation relationships
- social transfer of hunting techniques 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
- fostering youngsters of other individuals
- social play
Evolutionary biologist Dr. Susanne Shultz says, “Whales and dolphins have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains and, therefore, have created a similar marine based culture.” Although they are not able to mount the technology to build great metropolises or “primate parks” like the “water parks” we have created to imprison them, because they neither have hands not opposable thumbs.
Dr. Kieran Fox says, despite the different brain structure of cetaceans from humans, their research has caused a new question in minds: How can very different brain structures in very different species give rise to highly similar cognitive and social behaviours?
It might be possible that dolphins know something that they are not telling us. Maybe, the “smiling” expression on their faces is not futile.
- 1. https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com/2017/10/whales-and-dolphins-have-rich-human.html
- 2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-017-0336-y