Navigation Links
Whales able to learn from others

Humpback whales are able to pass on hunting techniques to each other, just as humans do, new research has found.

A team of researchers, led by the University of St Andrews, has discovered that a new feeding technique has spread to 40 per cent of a humpback whale population.

The findings are published today (Thursday 25 April) by the journal Science.

The community of humpback whales off New England, USA, was forced to find new prey after herring stocks their preferred food - crashed in the early 1980s.

The solution the whales devised hitting the water with their tails while hunting a different prey has now spread through the population by cultural transmission. By 2007, nearly 40 per cent of the population had been seen doing it.

Dr Luke Rendell, lecturer in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews, said: "Our study really shows how vital cultural transmission is in humpback populations not only do they learn their famous songs from each other, they also learn feeding techniques that allow them to buffer the effects of changing ecology."

The team - also including Jenny Allen from the University of St Andrews, Mason Weinrich of the Whale Center of New England and Will Hoppitt from Anglia Ruskin University - used a new technique called network-based diffusion analysis to demonstrate that the pattern of spread followed the network of social relationships within the population, showing that the new behaviour had spread through cultural transmission, the same process that underlies the diversity of human culture.

The data were collected by naturalist observers aboard the many whale-watching vessels that patrol the waters of the Gulf of Maine each summer.

Dr Hoppitt said: "We can learn more about the forces that drive the evolution of culture by looking outside our own ancestral lineage and studying the occurrence of similar attributes in groups that have evolved in a radically different environment to ours, like the cetaceans."

Humpbacks around the world herd shoals of prey by blowing bubbles underwater to produce 'bubble nets'.

The feeding innovation, called 'lobtail feeding', involves hitting the water with the tail before diving to produce the bubble nets.

Lobtail feeding was first observed in 1980, after the stocks of herring, previously the main food for the whales, became depleted.

At the same time sand lance stocks soared, and it would seem the innovation is specific to that particular prey, because its use is concentrated around the Stellwagen Bank, spawning grounds where the sand lance can reach high abundance.

Using a unique database spanning thirty years of observations gathered by Dr Weinrich, the researchers were able track the spread of the behaviour through the whales' social network.

Jenny Allen said: "The study was only made possible because of Mason's dedication in collecting the whale observations over decades, and it shows the central importance of long-term studies in understanding the processes affecting whale populations."

The scientists believe their results strengthen the case that cetaceans - the whales and dolphins - have evolved sophisticated cultural capacities.

The skills, knowledge, materials and traditions that humans learn from each other help explain how we have come to dominate the globe as a species, but how we evolved the capabilities to transmit such knowledge between ourselves remains a mystery that preoccupies biologists, psychologists and anthropologists.


Contact: Fiona MacLeod
University of St. Andrews

Related biology news :

1. Genetic survey of endangered Antarctic blue whales shows surprising diversity
2. Giant squids giant eyes: The better to see hungry whales with
3. New iPad, iPhone app helps mariners avoid endangered right whales
4. Study amplifies understanding of hearing in baleen whales
5. A whale of a discovery: New sensory organ found in rorqual whales
6. Scientists discover a new sensory organ in the chin of baleen whales
7. First paternity study of southern right whales finds local fathers most successful
8. New DNA-method tracks fish and whales in seawater
9. Long menopause allows killer whales to care for adult sons
10. Eating right key to survival of whales and dolphins: UBC research
11. Multi-tasking whales sing while feeding, not just breeding
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/11/2015)... , Nov. 11, 2015   MedNet Solutions , an ... of clinical research, is pleased to announce that it will ... Trials (PCT) event, to be held November 17-19 in ... to view live demonstrations of iMedNet , ... how iMedNet has been able to deliver time ...
(Date:11/10/2015)... , Nov. 10, 2015 ... behavioral biometrics that helps to identify and verify ... Signature is considered as the secure and accurate ... identification of a particular individual because each individual,s ... accurate results especially when dynamic signature of an ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... SAN JOSE, Calif. , Nov. 9, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... of human interface solutions, today announced broader entry into ... of vehicle-specific solutions that match the pace of consumer ... drivers, and biometric sensors are ideal for the automotive ... the vehicle. Europe , ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... Nov. 25, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna Zentaris Inc. (NASDAQ: ... business and prospects remain fundamentally strong and highlights ... doxorubicin) recently received DSMB recommendation to continue the ... review of the final interim efficacy and safety ... Endpoint in men with heavily pretreated castration- and ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... SAN DIEGO , Nov. 25, 2015 ... that management will participate in a fireside chat discussion ... New York . The discussion is ... Time. .  A replay will ... Contact:  Media Contact:McDavid Stilwell  , Julie NormartVP, Corporate ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... Francisco, CA (PRWEB) , ... November 25, 2015 ... ... microbial genomics company uBiome, were featured on AngelList early in their initial angel ... launching an AngelList syndicate for individuals looking to make early stage investments in ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The United States Golf Association ... 2016 USGA Green Section Award. Presented annually since 1961, the USGA Green Section Award ... work with turfgrass. , Clarke, of Iselin, N.J., is an extension specialist ...
Breaking Biology Technology: