The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins

Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell. Univ. of Chicago, $35 (408p) ISBN 978-0-226-89531-4
Biologists Whitehead and Rendell write that “culture is a flow of information moving from animal to animal,” and evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith called culture “the most important modification” of gene-based evolutionary theory. Humans, though arguably the masters of culture, are not the only species that has it. Dolphins, as the authors reveal, create signature whistles and can mimic and remember others’ even 20 years later. They can also learn tail-walking in captivity and then teach it in the wild. Whales possess dialects that change in a way that can only be explained as the result of learning. And both whales and dolphins behave in “obviously altruistic” ways. Dolphins and whales have saved humans stranded at sea, and humpback whales have been observed saving seals from killer whales. “We suspect that a sophisticated capacity for culture has been adaptive for many millions of years in the ocean,” write the authors, “[but it] never translated into an engine for generating the awesome body of accumulated skills, knowledge, and materials that characterize human culture.” Whitehead and Rendell deeply analyze the importance of culture to evolution, exploring what can be learned from animals that are perhaps more advanced than humans before pushing “off to sea again, where there is still so much to learn.” (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/24/2014
Release date: 12/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 442 pages - 978-0-226-18742-6
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-226-32592-7
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