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Clicking dialect of sperm whales is evidence of 'non-human culture', scientists say

Many conversations take place in the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean.

Click-click-click-click-click. It is the cry of a sperm whale.

Click-click-click-click, pause, click. It is a separate group of sperm whales that live in the same area.

The animal with the largest teeth in the world, the sperm whale is easily recognizable by its huge, rounded forehead and communicates using a series of Morse code-like clicks called “codas.”

Scientists now say in a new study that differences in whale calls are evidence of ‘non-human cultures’ and, like human ethnic groups, whale groups mark cultural identities when clans overlap. He said he would provide a method.

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The study, published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved a team of 27 scientists from Halifax and Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Lead author of the paper, Dr. Taylor Hirsch, a graduate of Dalhousie University’s Department of Biology, said in a news release that the study “is the culmination of decades of research efforts by individuals working across the Pacific.” I was.

“We decided to share data, collaborate, and learn something new about these enigmatic, charismatic and cultural animals,” says Hersh.

To determine whether whale codas are comparable to human dialects, researchers looked at “identity codas” specific to each clan.

“Whales from different clans don’t interact with each other, even if they share the same waters,” Hirsch said in an interview. “This suggests that whales have some way of distinguishing between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and we wanted to know if we could identify using identification codes. ”

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After pooling acoustic data from 23 locations and extracting over 23,000 codas, the team identified seven sperm whale vocal clans across the Pacific. Each has its own dialect.

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The study was part of the Global Coda Dialect Project, led by Hirsch, Canadian whale biologist Shane Gero, who is also a research fellow at Carleton University in Ottawa, and marine scientist Chris Johnson.

Researchers have known for years that different tribes of sperm whales can be distinguished based on their voices, Hirsch said. But a new study provides “quantitative evidence” that whales themselves use these identity coders as symbolic markers to indicate which cultural group they belong to.

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Overlapping clans made dialects more distinct, scientists said.

“I mean, if you see someone walking around with a cross or a necklace with a Star of David on it, I think that’s a good analogy for humans,” Hersh said. “Even if you don’t talk to them, listen to them, or know anything about them, you know at least one thing about the cultural group they think they belong to.

“And I think it’s similar to how sperm whales use these particular kinds of codas.”

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She said the study also revealed animal culture.

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“For too long we thought we had the most complex culture, or the only culture. I think there are more and more examples of animals that have cultures, and I think sperm whales do, too,” Hersh said.

Gero, a researcher at Carleton University, said in an interview that the researchers had spent thousands of hours in small open boats, and it was a daunting task. He said some scientists “lived on yachts sailing in the Pacific Ocean” and constantly recorded the sounds of the sea with hydrophones dragging behind them.

Extracting and labeling a whale coda can take 8 to 12 times longer for a 1-minute recording.

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Hirsch said the next step is to protect and protect whales in a way that accounts for their culture.

“If these whales are drawing boundaries around their cultural groups, I think that should be reflected in management (and) we see whales that way too, and that I think we need to build it into our management practices,” said Hersh.

She joked that if one day they found a way for humans to communicate with sperm whales, she would ask if the researchers’ findings were relevant to sperm whales.

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“Wait, is that true?” It’s nice to ask,” she said with a laugh.

This article was produced with financial support from the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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