New sperm whale vocal dialect as clans move on

Vocal dialects of sperm whales found around the Galápagos Islands have changed, according to new research. 

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Sperm whale

If the Liverpudlian accent was replaced by Geordie over the course of just a couple of decades, it might raise a few eyebrows.

But something similar has happened to the vocal dialect of sperm whales around the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, according to new research.

Sperm whales spend their lives in small groups of families. These social units interact with many others that share the same vocal dialect, producing cultural ‘clans’ consisting of hundreds of the mammals.

During the 1980s and ’90s, two clans, known as ‘Regular’ and ‘Plus One’, dominated Galápagos waters.

But new surveys reveal that these two clans have been replaced by whales using dialects from further out in the Pacific.

One possible explanation for this is that the ‘Regular’ and ‘Plus One’ clans departed for more productive waters nearer the South American mainland, where intense whaling had devastated sperm whale populations. This allowed the Pacific clans to fill the area they left.  

Source: Royal Society Open Science

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