Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 237–244

Babysitting, dive synchrony, and indications of alloparental care in sperm whales

  • Hal Whitehead


Young sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) serially accompany different members of their social group at the surface while the majority of the group is foraging at depth. The presence of a nearby larger whale is likely to increase the survival prospects of the young animal. In studies off the Galápagos Islands, first-year calves were less likely to be seen at the surface alone than were larger whales, and groups containing calves showed less synchronous diving behaviour – shorter intervals with no larger whales at the surface – than those without calves. This difference in diving synchrony was not solely the result of behaviour by individuals assumed to be the mothers of calves (as they spent a disproportionate amount of time accompanying them). Thus babysitting in sperm whales seems to be a form of alloparental care. Its benefit may have been an important factor in the evolution of sociality in female sperm whales.

Key wordsPhyseter macrocephalus Alloparental care Babysitting Diving Synchrony 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hal Whitehead
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 4J1CA

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