Animal and Human Culture
Of course, Humans have culture. In fact we have many different and extremely complex cultures. But do animals have culture?
The answer to this question depends on how you define culture. If you use a definition that requires specific Human characteristics, you automatically exclude animals.
However, there is little doubt that some groups of animals have something like culture in the sense of learned behavior passed on by learning from one generation to another. This is quite separate from things being passed on genetically.
A Cultural Revolution
In considering animal culture we need to accept that our understanding of some animals is rudimentary.
We do not know why Whales sing. We do know that their songs are complex and not random.
The Humpback Whales of in Australian waters suddenly changed their song. Suddenly a Whale came up with another song that was so popular that soon all the Whales were singing it. We do not understand the significance of this at all.
Human Dolphin Culture
Dolphins catch and eat fish. One of their normal strategies is to herd a school of fish and trap it against the shore. One group of Bottlenose Dolphins has taken this basic tactic a little further.
At Laguna in Brazil the Dolphins chase schools of fish toward the shore. Then they signal to the waiting fisherman to throw their nets. The Dolphins feast on the fish the Humans miss, and the fishermen and their families get a good meal.
This has been going on since at least 1847 and has become part of the culture of the fishermen and their families of the area, being passed on from one generation to the next.
However, it must also have been passed on for a greater number of generations of Dolphin in the area. It is now part of the cultural tradition of both species.
Different Dolphin Cultures at Shark Bay
In Human societies there are many overlapping cultures. These can be of different generations, people of different ethnic origins of simply different groups of friends. Can similar things happen with animals?
At Shark Bay in Western Australia two different groups of Dolphins have come up with completely different novel ways of fishing. One family group catches fish from the seabed with the aid of pieces of sponge.
Another Group has learned to catch fish in water only a few centimetres deep by building up speed and aquaplaning the last little bit, catching the fish. Although the Dolphin is then in very shallow water, they seem to be able to judge it well enough to avoid being stranded.
If one did get stranded they would have to hope that some of the many tourists who visit this area would help them back into the water. The tourist culture mostly does not include the eating of stranded Dolphins.