The theory has been around for decades, but scientists finally proved that sperm whales have different dialects and perhaps a culture of their own, which helps them differentiate one group from another. In fact, it has been found that sperm whales gather among those most familiar with themselves and learn their ‘language’.
Researchers at the Dalhousie University, in Canada, have carefully tracked the patterns, rhythms and clicks of the sperm whale’s Morse-like language in order to assess how they find themselves segregated into different clans, and how they create their very own form of communication.
They followed two groups of sperm whales in the Galapagos Islands that have been roaming the waters since the 1980s. They placed microphones underneath the waters to track and understand their manner of communication, called codas, that consists of three to fifteen clicks at various rhythms and tempos.
They took pictures of each whale’s tail end upon their resurfacing in order to identify and differentiate between them. The pattern upon the ridge of the tail is similar to fingerprints in humans.
According to lead author of the study, Mauricio Cantor, who is a PhD candidate at the university, each clan of sperm whale has its own dialect after observing the variations from the two groups. One, called the ‘regular clan’, had “regularly spaced clicks”, while the others, ‘plus-ones’, featured an “extended pause at the end before the last click”.
The conclusion has been drawn after extensive observations, collection of data and simulation of the whales’ lives on the computer to assess how they might’ve learned these differences in dialects that fueled the debate of existing cultures in animals. It’s a highly debated issue among scientists that has seen no definitive answer as of now.
Sperm whales might just have their very own culture, as it has been proven that the dialects among groups are not an innate feature or influenced by geographical location. In fact, their abilities and ways to communicate are formed due to a biased social learning that further separates them into clans.
Essentially, sperm whales learn alternative dialects from each other, and conforming to those around them that they find most similar. This may indicate that the marine animals do indeed form cultures of their owns, a trait that was previously attached strictly to humans.
Some experts say that this will fuel the fires of debate concerning development of cultures among animals, even though there is only a small number of scientists who believe it’s possible and that it can affect their behavior.
According to Cantor though, this study offers key evidence that such an ability is highly probable among other animals, and that we, as humans, might not be as different as we initially thought.