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Sperm whales in 19th century shared ship attack information

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A remarkable new study on how whales behaved when attacked by humans in the 19th century has implications for the way they react to changes wreaked by humans in the 21st century.

The paper, published by the Royal Society on Wednesday, is authored by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, pre-eminent scientists working with cetaceans, and Tim D Smith, a data scientist, and their research addresses an age-old question: if whales are so smart, why did they hang around to be killed? The answer? They didn’t.

Using newly digitized logbooks detailing the hunting of sperm whales in the North Pacific, the authors discovered that within just a few years, the strike rate of the whalers’ harpoons fell by 58%. This simple fact leads to an astonishing conclusion: that information about what was happening to them was being collectively shared among the whales, who made vital changes to their behavior. As their culture made fatal first contact with ours, they learned quickly from their mistakes.

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When facing a human attack, sperm whales abandoned the defensive circles used against orca and swam upwind instead.When facing a human attack, sperm whales abandoned the defensive circles used against orca and swam upwind instead. Photograph: Alamy

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/17/sperm-whales-in-19th-century-shared-ship-attack-information

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