The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins


Product Details

$25.00  $23.25
University of Chicago Press
Publish Date
5.9 X 8.9 X 1.1 inches | 1.3 pounds

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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.


"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 twenty 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. . . . 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.'"-- "Publishers Weekly"
"Convincingly dig[s] into critiques and alternative explanations for whale and dolphin behavior, providing a detailed look at the debate over whether culture exists among the animals. Whitehead and Rendell pack the text with references, keeping the book scrupulously rooted in scientific evidence. . . . For readers who are curious about whales and dolphins in the wild, the book offers a thorough grounding."-- "Science News"
"Recent publication of interest. . . . To Whitehead and Rendell, culture is 'a flow of information moving from animal to animal' and, thus, communication among whales and dolphins means they have a culture. This book addresses the questions of whether whales and dolphins really have cultures, what evidence indicates the presence of culture, what adaptations led to their cultures, what effect their cultures will have on the ecology of the oceans and conservation, and, finally, how the cultures affect these animals' treatments by humans."-- "Ecology"
"The anthropologist Joe Henrich . . . showed how cultural differences shape cognitive differences in people. A new book, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, by the biologists Whitehead and Rendell, calls out researchers like Henrich for treating culture as uniquely human. Their own decades of research indicates social learning among animals. For example, they note, whale pods in different parts of the world have developed regional singing styles."-- "Pacific Standard"
"Over the past few years, the most controversial question in animal cognition has not been whether animals have thoughts and feeling as individuals but whether a few species collectively create something that could reasonably be called a culture. . . . For a long-lived, social species, having a culture is an environmental advantage, since a collective knowledge means individuals can do things they would never be able to learn in their own lifetimes. Whitehead and Rendell are distinguished marine scientists. They provide [an] even balance between science and storytelling. . . . Their book is a profound exploration of animal cognition's cutting edge."-- "Economist"
"For those captivated by whales and dolphins, whether in reality or by an idea, Whitehead and Rendell's impressive book brings their world vividly to life, with a blend of anecdote, scientific research, and personal reflection. . . . The call to action is admirable. . . . Infectious."-- "Resurgence & Ecologist"
"Animals think, therefore: The inner lives of animals are hard to study--but there is evidence that they may be a lot richer than science once thought."-- "Bookforum"
"Whitehead and Rendell have written a dense, rigorously argued, and witty treatise about cetacean culture that manages to be both scientifically important and accessible to nonexperts who have genuine curiosity and are willing to work hard. . . . [They] argue both skeptically and rigorously for instances of cultural transmission in marine mammals, often using illuminating comparisons to birds. Defining culture as 'information or behavior--shared within a community--which is acquired . . . through some form of social learning, ' they proceed to sift through the evidence that whales and dolphins demonstrate cultural learning. Despite their rigor and skepticism, they find quite a lot. After all, they conclude, staying alive in the ocean is tough, and these mammals use the group as an important mechanism of survival."-- "New York Review of Books"