In “Whales with Caribbean Accents and Other Animal Dialects,” Liz Langley (National Geographic, 27 February 2016) writes, “Just like humans, some animal populations have unique ways of speaking that help maintain kinship.” The article serves as a brief introduction to the work of behavioral ecologist Shane Gero, who spent six years listening to sperm whales that live in the Caribbean. See excerpts below:
[. . .] Some readers have wondered whether animals have dialects, so Weird Animal Question of the Week is looking at the distinct ways some species “speak.”
A Whale of a Study
For a recent study, Shane Gero spent six years listening to sperm whales that live in the Caribbean and found codas unique to their regional groups. These sounds may identify individuals and family or social groups—just like first and last names.
One click sequence identifies the vocal clan and essentially translates to, “I am from the Caribbean, are you?” says Gero, founder of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project and a research fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark.
As social creatures, whales differ in how they do things like hunt or care for their young. “Behavior is what you do,” Gero says, “Culture is how you do it.” In that sense, these unique codas may allow Caribbean sperm whales to reinforce their culture and bond with family members, both crucial needs in the vast ocean, he says.
Sadly, sperm whales in the Caribbean are in decline, Gero says, likely from human impacts including pollution. [. . .]