Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Odontocetes: Concluding Remarks

  • Bernd Würsig
Part of the Ethology and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals book series (EBEMM)


The odontocetes—especially the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) and delphinids (family Delphinidae)—have been the subjects of much attention by ancient to modern cultures, exemplified well by Herman Melville’s writings of the 1850s. Most odontocetes have multilayered sophisticated societies, probably relying much on living together for several decades, knowing each other well, and remembering the past to unknown degree. Odontocete schooling has similarities to moving terrestrial ungulate herds, and perhaps even more similarities to three-dimensional flocking of birds and schooling of fishes. As mammals, they have the disadvantage of needing to stop feeding and other activities to regularly come to the surface to breathe, and the advantages of echolocation and large brains. It is possible but unproven that dolphins can learn about each other to some degree by echolocating into each other. Large brains and long lives make cultural ways particularly possible, but culture can be or become maladaptive if, for example, a particular way of feeding is no longer efficient but is not abandoned. There is evidence especially from captivity that individuals of a species—just as in humans—have vastly different capabilities, but this aspect of individuality has not been explored in detail in nature. Odontocetes are being impacted by humans, often but not always in detrimental ways. We strive for a greater understanding of them, our impacts on them, and their relationships and impacts on us.


Societies Schools Aggregations Intelligence Large brains Matriarchies Echolocation Conservation Culture 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernd Würsig
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Marine Biology, Ocean and Coastal SciencesTexas A&M University at GalvestonGalvestonUSA

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