Humpback whales displaying cultural habits within groups, study finds
New research is suggesting that humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine have a culture of their own, learning traditions within the group. Although many scholars have thought this not to be true in the past, solid evidence suggests otherwise. This particular group of humpbacks is sharing a new feeding behavior learned by socializing with members from their group.
Lobtail feeding, slapping the water with their tails is what the behavior is called, and has been used by over 200 whales in the Stellwagen Bank area. "I've been arguing for over a decade now that cultural transmission is important in cetacean societies," said study co-author Luke Rendell, who is a marine biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Rendell was caught off guard by how his data was strongly supported by the whales socially learned feeding skill. This trait seemed to be picked up rather than intuitively knowing to do it.
“The new study is a good proof of concept showing scientists can use this kind of network analysis in looking at questions of traditions and social learning,” said Bennett Galef, a retired professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, specializing in social learning.
However, Galef mentioned that these whales could have started the behavior at the same time as their group mate, not through social learning. “That’s not culture,” Galef said.