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The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologistby Frans De Waal
Synopses & Reviews
In the songs and bubble feeding of humpback whales; in young killer whales learning to knock a seal from an ice floe in the same way their mother does; and in the use of sea sponges by the dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia, to protect their beaks while foraging for fish, we find clear examples of the transmission of information among cetaceans. Just as human cultures pass on languages and turns of phrase, tastes in food (and in how it is acquired), and modes of dress, could whales and dolphins have developed a culture of their very own?
Unequivocally: yes. In The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, cetacean biologists Hal Whitehead, who has spent much of his life on the ocean trying to understand whales, and Luke Rendell, whose research focuses on the evolution of social learning, open an astounding porthole onto the fascinating culture beneath the waves. As Whitehead and Rendell show, cetacean culture and its transmission are shaped by a blend of adaptations, innate sociality, and the unique environment in which whales and dolphins live: a watery world in which a hundred-and-fifty-ton blue whale can move with utter grace, and where the vertical expanse is as vital, and almost as vast, as the horizontal.
Drawing on their own research as well as a scientific literature as immense as the seaand#151;including evolutionary biology, animal behavior, ecology, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscienceand#151;Whitehead and Rendell dive into realms both humbling and enlightening as they seek to define what cetacean culture is, why it exists, and what it means for the future of whales and dolphins. And, ultimately, what it means for our future, as well.
Arguing that apes have created their own distinctive culture, eminent primatologist Frans de Waal challenges our most basic assumptions about who we are and how we differ from other animals.
What if apes had their own culture rather than an imposed human version? What if they reacted to situations with behavior learned through observation of their elders (culture) rather than with pure genetically coded instinct (nature)? In answering these questions, eminent primatologist Frans de Waal corrects our arrogant assumption that humans are the only creatures to have made the leap from the natural to the cultural domain.The book's title derives from an analogy de Waal draws between the way behavior is transmitted in ape society and the way sushi-making skills are passed down from sushi master to apprentice. Like the apprentice, young apes watch their group mates at close range, absorbing the methods and lessons of each of their elders' actions. Responses long thought to be instinctive are actually learned behavior, de Waal argues, and constitute ape culture.A delightful mix of intriguing anecdote, rigorous clinical study, adventurous field work, and fascinating speculation, The Ape and the Sushi Master shows that apes are not human caricatures but members of our extended family with their own resourcefulness and dignity.
About the Author
Frans B. M. de Waal, Ph.D. is the C. H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center. He is one of the world's leading primate behavior experts. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Table of Contents
Culture in the Ocean?
Mammals of the Ocean
Song of the Whale
What the Dolphins Do
Mother Cultures of the Large Toothed Whales
How Do They Do It?
Is This Evidence for Culture?
How the Whales Got Culture
Whale Culture and Whale Genes
The Implications of Culture: Ecosystems, Individuals, Stupidity, and Conservation
The Cultural Whales: How We See Them and How We Treat Them
This Book Came From and Is Built On . . .
What Our Readers Are Saying
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