Can Creatures Have Culture?

Biology has posed an interesting question: Why are there two pods of orcas, or killer whales, that live off the coast of the American Northwest — one off British Columbia’s Vancouver Island and one further south off Washington State — that are of the same species but show different behaviors? The Vancouver orcas like to rub their bodies on the stones lining beaches (“beach rubbing”) in what could be a social-bonding exercise, while their brethren to the immediate south apparently don’t. Conversely, the Washington orcas have their own “greeting ceremonies,” forming tight lines, then exploding in underwater parties of rubs and calls. They also breach far more often than their northern counterparts. They don’t even communicate with the same vocabulary. How could two groups basically living in the same area be genetically similar and yet act so differently?

One possible explanation is something many of us don’t want to admit. If culture can be considered the ability to socially accumulate and transfer knowledge, these orcas are exhibiting all the signs of culture.

We like to think only humans are capable of such advanced behavior. But the truth is there are other examples in the animal world, like songbirds that learn dialects and transmit them from generation to generation.

So maybe we humans aren’t as unique as we think we are?

For a more in-depth discussion, see “The Hidden World of Whale Culture” by Craig Welch (

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *