The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins (Hardcover)

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The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is a fascinating compendium of a generation's worth of research on whales and dolphins. The authors – legendary whale scientists - have a dry sense of humor that leavens the overall scientific tone. While the academic slant could turn off some readers, it really serves to reinforce how thorough researchers have been when drawing conclusions; the cetaceans have inspired an uncomfortable body of science fiction over fact, but there’s decidedly no trace of that here. Reality is more than fantastic enough in this thought-provoking look at the development and advantages of culture in animals, including humans.

— Sara, Atlanta


In the songs and bubble feeding of humpback whales; in young killer whales learning to knock a seal from an ice floe in the same way their mother does; and in the use of sea sponges by the dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia, to protect their beaks while foraging for fish, we find clear examples of the transmission of information among cetaceans. Just as human cultures pass on languages and turns of phrase, tastes in food (and in how it is acquired), and modes of dress, could whales and dolphins have developed a culture of their very own?

Unequivocally: yes. In The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, cetacean biologists Hal Whitehead, who has spent much of his life on the ocean trying to understand whales, and Luke Rendell, whose research focuses on the evolution of social learning, open an astounding porthole onto the fascinating culture beneath the waves. As Whitehead and Rendell show, cetacean culture and its transmission are shaped by a blend of adaptations, innate sociality, and the unique environment in which whales and dolphins live: a watery world in which a hundred-and-fifty-ton blue whale can move with utter grace, and where the vertical expanse is as vital, and almost as vast, as the horizontal.

Drawing on their own research as well as a scientific literature as immense as the sea--including evolutionary biology, animal behavior, ecology, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience--Whitehead and Rendell dive into realms both humbling and enlightening as they seek to define what cetacean culture is, why it exists, and what it means for the future of whales and dolphins. And, ultimately, what it means for our future, as well.

About the Author

Hal Whitehead is a University Research Professor in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the author of Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean and Analyzing Animal Societies, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology, Luke Rendell is a lecturer in biology at the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution of the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226895314
ISBN-10: 0226895319
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: December 1st, 2014
Pages: 408
Language: English