...many biologists who study whales and dolphins ...urge that negotiators redouble efforts to abolish commercial whaling and dolphin hunting entirely. As these scientists see it, the evidence is high and mounting that the cetacean order includes species second only to humans in mental, social and behavioral complexity, and that maybe we shouldn’t talk about what we’re harvesting or harpooning, but whom.
“At the very least, you could put it in line with hunting chimps,” said Hal Whitehead, who studies sperm whales at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “When you compare relative brain size, or levels of self-awareness, sociality, the importance of culture, cetaceans come out on most of these measures in the gap between chimps and humans. They fit the philosophical definition of personhood.”
How much more personable can you get than to wave the flag for tribe or team? Among sperm and killer whales, Dr. Whitehead said, “there’s a feeling of what one might call ethnicity or cultural identity, of saying, ‘This is my clan, and it’s different from the others.’ ” One way whales express their ethnicity is through dialect. Every clan has its signature call, and in regions of the ocean where two clans overlap, the differences between calls become exaggerated. “It’s like if you’re Irish and you run across someone who is Scottish or Welsh,” said Dr. Whitehead. “You’ll speak with an even stronger Irish accent to make it really clear whose group you belong to.”