By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:
- Describe how biologists use the term “culture” and what its prerequisites are
- Identify features shared by humans and other cultural species
- Describe how cultural traditions are formed and the evidence for cultural transmission in whales, dolphins and other cultural species
- Explain why vocal traditions and learning provide a strong foundation for studying culture
- Examine the ramifications of losing a culture
Your online learning will include the following methods:
- Reading academic and non-academic articles
- Participation in written discussions with other students
- Participation in videoconference seminars
For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.
Week 1: Case study: killer whales
Orcas live in tight-knit matrilineal groups led by older females. Culture shapes what orcas eat, how they hunt, what they do for fun, the sounds they use and who they mate with. Individual cultural groups have become genetically distinct from each other, an example of gene-culture co-evolution. What are the ecological advantages of sticking to a cultural group? What does culture really mean?
Week 2: Case study: sperm whales
Sperm whale societies are organized into matrilineal family units and clans with distinct vocal dialects. The clans form a mosaic of learned traditions. During the whaling era, sperm whales learned from each other how to outwit whalers. How do new behavioral tactics spread through communities and populations?
Week 3: Case study: humpback whales
Male humpback whales sing remarkable, complex songs, which can undergo cultural evolution and even a cultural revolution every few years. How do humpbacks share song ideas? What is the role of novelty in cultural evolution?
Week 4: Case studies: beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins
The annual return of beluga whales to summering areas across the Arctic may involve migratory culture. Do belugas also have vocal cultures? Bottlenose dolphins use marine sponges as tools, a culturally transmitted behaviour. Why do dolphins form culturally similar cliques? Drawing from the entire course, we discuss the importance of older individuals as carriers of social and ecological knowledge, and the implications of culture for conservation.
Books, materials and resources
You will access course resources using SFU’s online course management system, Canvas.