Sperm whales live in huge groups, each with its own culture, just like us

About the episode

Sperm whales: They can reach a length of 15 meters, weigh 45 thousand kilograms, and dive for up to two hours in search of food. We now know: They live in huge social groups of up to 20,000 individuals. Mostly women and children.

Audio recordings and drone images were used for the research. This allowed them to hear, among other things, how the groups distinguished themselves from each other: by their Morse code-like dialects. In the Pacific Ocean, they found a total of seven such large clans, each with its own dialect.

They have seen groups meet each other occasionally, but dating only occurs within their own group. According to the researchers, it seems as if they are aware of their differences and maintain that. In fact: there is not much that suits us except culture.

In sperm whale society there also appears to be consultation rather than strict leadership. Decisions seem to be made jointly. “Sometimes it takes the group an hour to decide which way to go,” says one researcher.

They also believed they saw traces of human influence. Sperm whales can live up to 80 years, and some have lived to see the time when they were freely hunted. Animals living in areas where hunting continues today show reduced fecundity, smaller body sizes, and fragmented habitats.

Researchers now hope they can look back at the history of this huge animal, indeed before our intervention. It won’t be easy, but it will undoubtedly be interesting.

Read more about the research here: Research has found that sperm whales live in culturally distinct clans

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Megan Vasquez

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