Female sperm whales belong to clans that resemble human social groupings: study

- January 11, 2024

A drone captures a photograph of socializing sperm whales. (Ana Eguiguren photo)
A drone captures a photograph of socializing sperm whales. (Ana Eguiguren photo)

Scientists studying sperm whales have over decades of research determined that females belong to clans, which are distinguished by their distinctive vocalizations and behaviour. The clans are large, containing thousands of members and spanning thousands of kilometres.

They have also learned that although two or more clans may use the same waters, their members do not socialize with each other.

In a new paper in Royal Society Open Science, Dr. Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University examines how that behaviour may bear strong similarities to human social associations, finding a close parallel when it comes to how humans form ethno-linguistic groups.

Unexpected discoveries about the societies of our ancestors can help guide studies of sperm whale clans. Conversely, the existence of sperm whale clans may have implications for understanding human social evolution.

Full study: Sperm whale clans and human societies (Royal Society Open Science)


Media interested in more information on this discovery, contact Alison Auld


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