1 Tahrcountry Musings: Culturally defined dialect that sperm whales use.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Culturally defined dialect that sperm whales use.

Sperm whales and culturally defined dialect that they use? Is this something straight out of fiction?. No, this is exactly what Dr Luke Rendell from the University of St Andrews and his colleagues have discovered. All sperm whales in a pod use the same small selection of patterned clicks.

Scientists have discovered that in the pacific, the whales belong to one of five clans, with each clan using a different dialect. They use definite patterned clicks called codas.

The scientists studied mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation among sympatric vocal clans in the Pacific Ocean, using sequences extracted from sloughed skin samples. Their intention was to find out whether the whales' dialects were biologically determined. If the whales' dialects were biologically determined those that share the same dialect would have similar genes too. They found that whales with different repertoires of codas are often genetically similar.

The study points to the fact that instead of focussing solely on where the animals live, protection should also consider which dialect they use. The researchers say ulturally-defined vocal clans may be more appropriate management units.

Journal reference

Can Genetic Differences Explain Vocal Dialect Variation in Sperm Whales,Physetermacrocephalus? 

Luke Rendell, Sarah L. Mesnick, Merel L. Dalebout, Jessica Burtenshaw and Hal Whitehead 

BEHAVIOR GENETICS DOI: 10.1007/s10519-011-9513-y

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