Skip to content
All news
  • All news
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Corporates
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Green Whale
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
  • Stranding
  • Whale watching
Humpback whale underwater

Humpback whale rescued from shark net in Australia

A humpback whale and her calf have managed to escape after becoming entangled in a...
Humpback whales in Alaska

Pumps and conveyor belts. How could more whales help save us?

We are excited to announce backing for two ground-breaking research projects to assess the little...
Amazon River dolphin (Boto)

River dolphins observed playing with anaconda

Researchers in Bolivia recorded an unusual interaction between local rivers dolphins and an anaconda snake...
Common bottlenose dolphin

Dolphin pens identified at Russian naval base

Analysis of satellite imagery suggests that Russia may be using military dolphins at its naval...
All policy news
  • All policy news
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Stop whaling
  • Strandings

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...
Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

Icelandic fin whale hunting to resume

Iceland’s only fin whaling company, Hvalur hf,  announced today that it will resume fin whaling...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Whale culture should play a part in their conservation says new international study

An international group of researchers working on a wide range of species, including whales, argues that cultural knowledge of these creatures needs to be taken into consideration when planning international conservation efforts and laws.

A paper published in leading journal Science (Tuesday 26 February) makes a compelling case that growing scientific evidence on social learning, which can lead to unique cultures in many species, is important for both conservation practice and conservation policy.

Insights can provide valuable information on ‘what’ groups to conserve, and on ‘how’ best to conserve them. For example, understanding how grandmother orcas pass on valuable information to their offspring, or why some groups of chimpanzees have a culture of cracking nutritious nuts with stone tools while others do not, can be key to evaluating conservation challenges for such species.

In many species, inexperienced young learn key survival skills by observing knowledgeable elders in their social group. This includes learning about how to communicate, how to forage efficiently, and where to migrate to when conditions become less hospitable.

Unlike genetic transmission, this social knowledge can be passed on within generations, so knowledge about new food sources can be shared, potentially providing resilience in changing environments.

However, the authors report that social-learning processes can also result in the emergence of cultural sub-groups with distinctive behavioural profiles, potentially erecting social barriers, as observed for example in the distinctive vocal clans of sperm whales in the Eastern tropical Pacific. Such cultural segregation can have important conservation implications, especially when different groups have different foraging strategies and vary in their ability to cope with environmental change.

For some species, protecting individual whales that act as ‘repositories’ of social knowledge, may be just as important as conserving their critical habitat.

“Beyond genes, knowledge is also an important currency for wildlife. As well as conserving genetic diversity, we must work towards maintaining cultural diversity within animal populations, as a reservoir for resilience and adaptation. This is an important reframing of our understanding of the natural world, which will necessitate changes in international wildlife law,” said the lead author of the paper, Philippa Brakes, from the University of Exeter, UK.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) – widely known as the ‘Bonn Convention’ – which operates under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has been a pioneer in this field, spearheading efforts to use scientific knowledge on animal cultures, to improve the conservation of migratory species.

The Science paper resulted from a seminal workshop in Parma, Italy, organised by the CMS, where experts pooled decades of expertise to devise concrete recommendations on how to improve conservation strategies. They highlighted that it is critical to catalogue the wide diversity of cultural behaviours within the animal kingdom, and to develop methods for identifying individuals who are the keepers of important social knowledge within their communities and require special protection.

Senior author of the paper, Professor Christian Rutz, from the University of St Andrews, UK, announced the publication of the group’s recommendations on Tuesday 26 February, at a workshop on animal cultures in Konstanz, Germany, co-organised by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology Radolfzell and the National Geographic Society.

This novel approach opens up opportunities for innovative ways of protecting and communicating about the natural world: understanding that other species have rich social lives and that they share important information with each other, provides an invaluable new perspective. With increasing habitat degradation around the globe, such insights may be vital for efficient animal conservation.

Read more about this and why we should protect whales and dolphins

Sperm whales have large brains

Leave a Comment