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Do Sperm Whales Have Names?

By Paperstone on March 27, 2011 in Health & Safety
bernard the sperm whale
A sperm whale: Known to his comrades as Bernard, perhaps?

Recent analysis of sperm-whale calls suggests that these communicative beasts announce themselves with discrete personal identifiers. The findings are based on observations of only three whales and so are speculative at this point, but are, according to biologist Luke Rendell of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, “very suggestive.”

“They seem to make that coda in a way that’s individually distinctive,” he said.

The articulation of personal identifiers – to all intents and purposes, naming – has already been observed in dolphins. Sperm whales are similarly social and intelligent animals, maintaining complex relationships over long distances and coordinating hunts and babysitting with nuanced sonic communication.

Their coda repertoires contain many different calls and vary between families and regions. As do their behaviour patterns.

In their latest study, researchers analysed a coda made by sperm whale around the world, called 5R, and found variations between individual whales: each of the whales studied had its own personal 5R riff.

Rendell recognises that the findings may represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding sperm whale societies.

“I’d argue that there is probably a vast amount of complexity out there in sperm whale society that we have yet to understand,” he says. “As we get to know more about them, we’re going to continue to reveal complexities that we didn’t anticipate.”

Via Wired Science

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