Uncovering the Complex Relationships of Non-Human Animals

As scientists continue to deepen their studies of the natural world, we find ourselves increasingly at odds with the prevailing worldview that sees non-human animals as less-than-intelligent, unable to possess “culture” or meet various requirements that have been used to designate humans as the superior. A rapidly expanding collection of researchers around the world are unearthing the intricate intelligence and relationships that characterize the life of many other-than-human species. A number of animals have long been recognized for their adaptability, communication and social structures, but ongoing research is unveiling even deeper layers of complexity, proving that we’ve only scratched the surface of how animals perceive the world and relate to one another.

From sperm whale communication to the gender dynamics of apes, the evidence of animal culture is ever-growing. A number of animals, it is now clear, display unique behaviors, customs, and knowledge that are passed down through generations, shaping their societies and enabling them to thrive in their environments. In this newsletter, we will embark on a journey of discovery, exploring some of the latest advances and thought-provoking insights into animal culture and consciousness.

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What Sperm Whale Communication Can Tell Us About Communities & Cultures Beneath the Ocean’s Surface

Until fairly recently, the dominant view among scientists was that non-human animals didn’t manifest real intelligence and certainly didn’t live in dynamic cultures. But those ideas have been entirely demolished in recent years. Several examples of sophisticated decision-making, tool usage, emotional richness, and complex social organization in species have come to light.

In this edited conversation led by journalist Kate Golden, we hear from two major figures in this burgeoning scientific and societal renaissance, Carl Safina and Shane Gero, about what we know and what we might be able to learn from studying sperm whales.

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Busting the Myth of Primate Patriarchy: The Nature of Sex and Gender in Our Ape Relatives

In this podcast episode of Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature, world-renowned primatologist Professor Frans de Waal explores the nature of sex and gender among our cousins the apes, and how gender diversity is a common and pervasive potential on nature’s masculine-feminine continuum. In the quest to overcome human gender inequality, he suggests that our focus needs to be on the inequality.

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Shane Gero | Preserving Animal Cultures: Lessons From Whale Wisdom

Shane Gero, Ph.D., is a Canadian whale biologist, Scientist-in-Residence at Ottawa’s Carleton University, Biology Lead for Project CETI, and a National Geographic Explorer. In this presentation, Shane shares what he has learned from the thousands of hours he has spent in the company of sperm whales, including how fundamentally similar their lives are to our own and how their cultures define their identity, just as ours do. Shane explains why we need new approaches to whale conservation that recognize the biologically important divisions between different communities of whales, so we can respect their identity and cultural diversity; and how this can be extrapolated to the larger struggle to conserve biodiversity.

Watch Shane Gero’s Presentation

Stories From the Field: Carl Safina

Carl Safina, Ph.D., is an ecologist and the inaugural holder of the Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook. He is President of The Safina Center and a world-renowned, award-winning author on oceans, animals, and the human relationship with the natural world. In the following stories, Carl shares his insights about animal culture and consciousness.

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