Killer whales exhibit 'cultural learning'

Jan 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: Can new understanding avert tragedy?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

2 hours ago

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

4 hours ago

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

5 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

5 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Unraveling the 'black ribbon' around lung cancer

It's not uncommon these days to find a colored ribbon representing a disease. A pink ribbon is well known to signify breast cancer. But what color ribbon does one think of with lung cancer?