Speed Reads

whale tales

Sperm whales shared information on how to avoid human attacks in the 19th century, study suggests

Sperm whales learned how to avoid human attacks in the 19th century by sharing information about them with each other, a new study by the United Kingdom's Royal Study concluded, The Guardian reports.

The authors analyzed newly digitized logbooks detailing whaling in the north Pacific during that time and discovered the strike rate of harpoons fell by 58 percent within five years. That suggests sperm whales, which are very social creatures, underwent a "cultural evolution" (the timeframe is far too short for genetic evolution, Hal Whitehead, one of the authors of the study said) by communicating with each other. Behavioral changes that allowed them to evade their human hunters included abandoning their normal defensive positions used against orcas, their only natural predator.

Whaling is no longer the threat it once was to sperm whales, but the study does hint at the possibility that the species may be collectively working to survive a myriad of 21st century challenges like shipping accidents, "the depredations of longline fishing," and "the changing source of their food due to climate change," Whitehead told The Guardian. Read more at The Guardian.