Whales and dolphins have rich and complex societies that scientists describe as remarkably "human-like."
Societies Of Whales And Dolphins
In a new study, researchers revealed that the societal lives of cetaceans share the same characteristics that make human societies unique.
Just like humans, whales and dolphins live among family and friends in close groups. They talk to each other and develop regional dialects, as well as form complex relationships across groups.
Researchers noted records of dolphins playing with humpback whales, helping fishermen with their catches and producing signature whistles for absent dolphins which suggest the animals may even engage in gossips.
The skills and knowledge of these marine animals are also passed from generation to generation, not through genes but rather culturally. Cetaceans are believed to do most of their learning socially instead of individually, which can help explain why some species learn more complex behaviors than other species.
Big Brains, Intellect And Social Characteristics
Researchers said that these complex social and cultural characteristics such as learning from observation, hunting together, and the development of regional dialects, are associated with the expansions of the animals' brains, a process called encephalization.
A controversial theory suggests that species with bigger brains relative to their body size tend to be more intelligent. In a 2016 study, researchers found evidence supporting this theory. The findings revealed that carnivore species with relatively larger brains relative to their body size are better at completing problem-solving tasks. Cetaceans evolved to have big brains.
"We know whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains and, therefore, have created a similar marine based culture," said evolutionary biologist Susanne Shultz, from the University of Manchester's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
"The apparent co-evolution of brains, social structure, and behavioural richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates on land."
Understanding Humans' Own Intellect
Studying the brain and intelligence of whales and dolphins may help scientists get a better understanding of humans' own intellect.
"The apparent coevolution of brains, social structure and behavioral richness of marine mammals provides a unique and striking parallel to the large brains and hyper-sociality of humans and other primates," researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
"Our results suggest that cetacean social cognition might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn and use a diverse set of behavioral strategies in response to the challenges of social living."