Scientists working throughout the world have identified 80 unique "codas," the sperm whale equivalent of words, which they produce by emitting sounds called clicks. Each sperm whale clan has its own dialect, a unique repertoire of codas shared only with the other families who make up their clan. In the Pacific, there are five known dialect clans, and many of them co-exist in the same general regions without ever interacting. Atlantic whales have their own dialects too, and in the Caribbean there are two known clans.Fascinating, although calling different arrangements of of 80 simple sounds "languages" is a bit grandiose. I wonder how much all of this was impacted by the near extermination of sperm whales fifty years ago? Some human societies that have been through drastic population declines have also suffered huge losses of culture.
Sperm whale society is very complicated, and every whale belongs to multiple social groups. Individuals spend most of their time in small family units, and multiple families converge to form larger groups. All the groups who share a dialect form a clan, and members of a clan may be so widely dispersed that they never meet one another even though they speak the same language. Families are made up of adult females and calves, while adult males tend to roam widely between clans and sometimes even swim from one ocean basin to the other. But even these general social structures vary a lot between oceans.
Friday, July 1, 2016
Sperm Whale Culture
Interesting article about recent research in the social lives of sperm whales, which are studied mainly through their vocalizations: