Our shared mammalian heritage makes cetaceans extremely important in any comparative analysis. There is a wide diversity of cetacean taxa, but, given their aquatic lifestyle, we know relatively little about most species. A handful of well-studied species provide convincing evidence that cultural transmission occurs in a number of behavioural contexts including foraging, communication, and migration. In this chapter, the authors highlight examples of social learning, cultural evolution, and the emergence of local cultures, using several case studies. These include vocal learning and multiple foraging traditions in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.), vocal clans and cultural hitchhiking in sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), migratory culture in southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), song culture and foraging traditions in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), and the evolution of killer whale (Orcinus orca) ecotypes. Finally, the authors explore how some of these behaviours are linked to recent genomic findings suggesting that gene-culture coevolution is occurring in some populations, and how knowledge of cultural differences among groups and populations can inform conservation management.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of cultural evolution
EditorsJamshid J. Tehrani, Jeremy Kendal, Rachel Kendal
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780191905780
ISBN (Print)9780198869252
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2024


  • Cetaceans
  • Vocal learning
  • Song
  • Foraging traditions
  • Migratory culture
  • Clans
  • Cultural evolution


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