Science says sperm whales live in clans and learn a 'language'

A dead sperm whale in Boca Raton, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Sperm whales live in clans and appear to communicate using different dialects, according to long term research in the Galapagos Islands.

The researchers found young sperm whales learn a local “click” language from friends and relatives rather than inheriting it. Sperm whales make clicking sounds.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that processes similar to those underlying the formation of human cultures are also in operation with the sperm whales.

Sperm whales, the largest of the toothed whales, live in multi-level groups where individuals within family units group together into larger clans.

Each clan can be distinguished by similarities in the pattern of their vocal “click” language repertoires.

MaurĂ­cio Cantor of Dalhousie University, Canada, and colleagues used data collected over 18 years from sperm whales near the Galapagos Islands.

Sperm whales have the largest and most complex brains of any animal, including man. They grow up to 20 metres long and weigh as much as 50 tonnes.

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