Killer whales exhibit 'cultural learning'

January 26, 2006
Killer whale

A Canisius College study has found killer whales are among animal species known to demonstrate "cultural learning."

The discovery was made by Michael Noonan, an animal behavior professor at the Buffalo, N.Y., college, during a study at Marineland at Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada.

Noonan observed a four-year-old orca luring gulls into his tank by spitting fish onto the water's surface. The mammal then sank and waited for a gull to take the bait.

Within a couple months, Noonan observed the whale's younger brother adopt the same gull-catching strategy, thereby demonstrating cultural learning -- a phenomenon in which animals of the same species learn from other members of their group.

"It looked like one was watching while the other tried," Noonan said of the whale's initial behavior.

"It was once believed that most animal behavior, from the food they ate to the places they slept, was based on instinct," said Noonan. "This new discovery supports the growing view that animals like killer whales are very prone to learning by imitation, and that they are 'cultural' by nature."

Noonan presented his findings during the August Animal Behavior Society conference in Snowbird, Utah.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Explore further: Brain circuit differences reflect divisions in social status

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light

October 9, 2015

A team of scientists from the University of Chicago and the Pennsylvania State University have accidentally discovered a new way of using light to draw and erase quantum-mechanical circuits in a unique class of materials ...

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.