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Sperm whales use clicks to spread their culture

About the episode

Where we humans can use clothing, body adornment, music, and language to show what we find important or the group we belong to, sperm whales use special clicks.

A huge international group of scientists has prepared to work with mounds of acoustic data from sperm whale communities in 23 locations around the world for this research. Even when different groups of sperm whales are in the same waters, there is rarely any interaction between groups. So animals at least know the difference between their own group and other groups.

Sperm whales communicate with each other in the language of clicks, a type of Morse code. Each group has its own dialect, with special flicks within the language to indicate identity. The researchers were curious to see if these clicks were also used to spread group culture. If this is the case, it probably works just as well as with people: the more groups that live in close proximity to each other, the more clearly the culture is spread. And that’s exactly what they found.

According to the researchers, it is important to study and understand non-human culture, among other things so that we can better protect animals and their habitats. But perhaps also to realize: we are not unique after all.

Read more: Whale clans use sounds to distinguish their culture.

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