BONUS BOOK: Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean by Hal Whitehead

“We must not be seduced by the false promise that science can understand and reverse all the adverse consequences of our overexploitation of Earth, and scientific research should not be used, as it so often is, in the place of hard management decisions.”

Genre: Nonfiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Famed in stories as ‘the great leviathans,’ sperm whales are truly creatures of extremes. Giants among all whales, they also have the largest brains of any creature on Earth. Males can reach a length of sixty-two feet and can weight upwards of fifty tons. With this book, Hal Whitehead gives us a clearer picture of the ecology and social life of sperm whales than we have ever had before. Based on almost two decades of field research, Whitehead describes their biology, behavior, and habitat; how they organize their societies; and how their complex lifestyles may have evolved in this unique environment. Among the many fascinating topics he explores is the crucial role that culture plays in the life of the sperm whale, and he traces the consequences of this argument for both evolution and conservation. Drawing on these findings, Whitehead builds a general model of how the ocean environment influences social behavior and cultural evolution among mammals as well as other animals. The definitive portrait of a provocative creature, Sperm Whales will interest animal behaviorists, conservationists, ecologists, and evolutionary biologists as well as marine mammalogists.

Review: I’ll preface this review by saying that I am likely unfairly biased in favor of this book. After all, in just a few short weeks I’ll be starting a Master’s project on sperm whale communication and coda evolution. And the author of Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean just so happens to be my new supervisor! But biases aside, Sperm Whales is an excellent piece of work. Impeccably well-researched, this book is hands-down the definitive guide to sperm whale behavior. It covers every facet of the life history of these magnificent animals, from their physiology to their social structure to their unique, culturally-driven communication. Whitehead truly leaves no stone unturned as he attempts to determine how the rather strange-looking sperm whale came to be. His examination extends beyond the overall health of sperm whale populations and also considers the overall health of the oceans.

“The ocean is one organ. We cannot preserve just one part.”

But perhaps the best thing about this book is that introduces the reader to the idea of culture in cetaceans. In our increasingly anthropocentric world, the idea that animals can possess culture on a similar level to humans has only recently started to gain some ground. Whitehead presents compelling, and ultimately convincing, evidence that shows sperm whales have developed their own intricate version of culture. All in all, I can say with certainty that this book will be my close companion over the next two years. But I also believe that ocean and animal lovers alike will find lots to love about Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean.





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