Whales and humans

Learn about the ways that whales and humans have coexisted throughout history, and how these observations uncover how similar our two species really are. 

A recent study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution has found a strong connection between the brain size of whales and dolphins and their complex social behaviors. This study collected data on 90 species, revealing evidence of sophisticated social traits similar to those observed in human culture.

The research highlights that brain size and expansion, known as encephalization, are linked to the societal and cultural characteristics of these animals. These traits include complex alliance relationships, cooperative hunting, regional dialects, vocal mimicry, and social play.

Whales and dolphins have ‘human-like’ cultures and societies


Society = bigger brains


Dr. Susanne Shultz, an evolutionary biologist, suggests that the evolution of large brains in whales parallels the development of human intelligence. However, unlike humans, whales won’t mimic our technological advancements due to their lack of opposable thumbs.

The study tested the social brain hypothesis and cultural brain hypothesis, which propose that large brains evolve in response to complex social environments. This is the first time these hypotheses have been applied to marine mammals on such a scale.


ocean conservation
Killer Whale
Killer Whale
Killer Whale

what this means

Dr. Michael Muthukrishna emphasizes the historical significance of studying whale’s intelligence in understanding human behavior. Whales serve as a unique control group compared to humans, offering insights into the evolution of humans.

Dr. Kieran Fox notes that although whales have different brain structures from humans, they exhibit similar complex social behaviors, challenging previous assumptions about their cognitive abilities. This raises the question of how diverse brain structures can lead to similar cognitive and social behaviors across species.

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