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Sperm whales have a culture of their own, says study


A new study suggests that sperm whales create small close-knit social groups based on a dialect of vocal clicks called codas, discovery news reports.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

The study combined earlier data collected from years of field observation and computer models.

Earlier studies have made scientists determine that sperm whales live in stable groups and communicate with other whales using a shared dialect. Sperm whales are highly intelligent creatures, with the largest brains in the animal kingdom.

"It is quite rare to find groups of animals of the same species in the same area with unique behaviors," said lead author Mauricio Canto, a biology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, according to discovery news.

"What we didn't know, was how these different sperm whale 'dialects' evolved," Canto told AFP.

For the study, Canto and colleagues used 30 years of fieldwork on sperm whales living near the Galapagos Islands into turned them into computer models.

"Basically, we translated all we know about sperm whale biology into computer models, which simulated the life of different whale populations over time," he explained.

The team created 20 different scenarios that might result in the generation of codas and then let each virtual whale population evolve over thousands of years.

"Computer models help us make an informed guess of what has generated clans of whales with distinct 'dialects'," he said.

The results of the study showed that the formation of whale communities with a common dialect was based on socially learned behavior and shared with the population.

"We do not suggest that animal cultures are the same as the diverse, symbolic and cumulative human cultures," Cantor said.

"But like us, animals can discover new things, learn and copy things from each other, and pass along this information over generations."

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