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Cetacean culture: Still afloat after the first naval engagement of the culture wars

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Abstract

Although the majority of commentators implicitly or explicitly accept that field data allow us to ascribe culture to whales, dolphins, and other nonhumans, there is no consensus. While we define culture as information or behaviour shared by a population or subpopulation which is acquired from conspecifics through some form of social learning, some commentators suggest restricting this by requiring imitation/teaching, human analogy, adaptiveness, stability across generations, progressive evolution (ratchetting), or specific functions. Such restrictions fall down because they either preclude the attribution of culture to non-humans using currently available methods, or exclude pal ts of human culture. The evidence for cetacean culture is strong in some cases, but weak in others. The commentaries provide important information on the social learning abilities of bottlenose dolphins and some interesting speculation about the evolution of cetacean cultures and differences between the cultures of different taxa. We maintain that some attributes of cetacean culture are currently unknown outside humans. While experimental studies, both in the laboratory and in the wild, have an important role in the study of culture in whales and dolphins (for instance in determining whether dolphins have a Theory-of-Mind), the real treasures will. be uncovered by long-term observational studies at sea using new approaches and technologies.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-382
Number of pages23
JournalBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Volume24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2001

    Research areas

  • PACIFIC SPERM WHALES, ORCINUS-ORCA, KILLER WHALES, POPULATION-STRUCTURE, SIGNATURE WHISTLES, TURSIOPS-TRUNCATUS, MARINE MAMMALS, EVOLUTION, DOLPHINS, BEHAVIOR

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