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

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October 16, 2017 University of Manchester  read full ScienceDaily article here

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.

Pod of dolphins diving together. Credit: © lancesagar / Fotolia

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…

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

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