Book Jacket Synopsis: “In The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, cetacean biologists Whitehead and Rendell open an astounding porthole onto the fascinating culture beneath the waves. As they show, cetacean culture and its transmission are shaped by a blend of adaptations, innate sociality, and the unique environment in which whales and dolphins live: a watery world in which a hundred-and-fifty-ton blue whale can move with utter grace, and where the vertical expanse is as vital, and almost as vast, as the horizontal. Drawing on their own research as well as scientific literature as immense as the sea – including evolutionary biology, animal behavior, ecology, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience – Whitehead and Rendell dive into realms both humbling and enlightening as they seek to define what cetacean culture is, why it exists, and what it means for the future of whales and dolphins – and, ultimately, what it means for our future, as well.
Review: The first thing I will say about The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is that this book doesn’t really fall under the category of light reading. Compared to other books I have recently read, this one took almost triple the time to finish. However, the reason it took so long is because The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is literally stuffed to the brim with facts, knowledge, and anecdotes. As someone who is fascinated by evolutionary biology and the development of sociality in the oceans, I often felt myself itching to grab paper and pen and start taking notes. I believe this book will be an invaluable resource throughout my career. It has also helped me in countless ways as I attempt to navigate the tricky, exhausting path to marine biology graduate school. This book is a mandatory staple on the shelf of any aspiring marine biologist, particularly if they hope to someday study cetaceans. However, given the favorable position cetaceans occupy in the public arena (particularly since discussions on their intelligence and compatibility with captivity have been called into question in recent years), I strongly believe that non-scientifically oriented people will still find this book engaging and informative.