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Mindful conservation – why we need a new respect for nature

'We should look at whales and dolphins as the indigenous people of the seas -...
tins of whale meat

How Japan’s whaling industry is trying to convince people to eat whales

Japan's hunters kill hundreds of whales every year despite the fact that hardly anyone in...
Common dolphins © Christopher Swann

Did you know dolphins have personalities?

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Microplastics on beach

Blue whales and the menace of microplastics – how we’ll solve this problem

Our love affair with plastic began in the 1950s when it revolutionised manufacturing. But what...
A dolphin called Arnie with his shell.

Dolphins catch fish using giant shell tools

In Shark Bay, Australia, two groups of dolphins have figured out how to use tools...
Common dolphins at surface

Did you know that dolphins have unique personalities?

We all have personalities, and between the work Christmas party and your family get-together, perhaps...
Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...

Sperm whale cultural turn-over: moving on out

Decades of research on sperm whales in the Pacific has revealed a most remarkable social event.  Researchers have documented the large-scale relocation of cultural groups of sperm whales off the Galápagos Islands.

Sperm whale clans can be differentiated by their unique click patterns, or codas. Researchers have been visiting the waters around the Galapagos over the course of several decades. They found that two vocal clans that had been observed in these waters between 1985 and 1999 (known as the Regular and Plus-One clans), were starting to decline during the 1990s. By 2000 none of these whales were being sighted in this area.

When they went back to reassess these same waters in 2013-14 they identified 436 females. However, much to their surprise none of these whales matched the photo-ID records for the 1985-1999 population and instead the codas of these whales matched the repertoire of two completely separate clans (known as the Short and Plus-Four). These clans had been sighted in various locations around the Pacific, but never before around the Galapagos.

In essence they discovered that the two original vocal clans inhabiting these waters had been replaced by whales from two other clans.

The researchers acknowledge that the ultimate cause of this cultural turn-over remain unclear, but postulate that changes in the environment that may favour clans that feed on different prey types or that redistribution of surviving whales into higher quality habitats following heavy whaling in the region, may have played a role.

Whatever the mechanism behind these dramatic shifts in habitat between cultural groups, this is further evidence that to conserve sperm whales effectively requires tracking their populations as cultural units.