Taylor Hersh (Ph.D. Student): Despite our general knowledge of sperm whale dialects, the question of how dialects initially evolved, and how they may (or may not) be evolving today, remains enigmatic. Given extensive acoustic research efforts in both the Tropical Pacific and the Eastern Caribbean, sperm whale dialect evolution can now be feasibly investigated. The goal of my doctoral research is to elucidate the communicative mechanisms that allow sperm whales to evolve and maintain distinct dialects in varying degrees of sympatry.
Felicia Vachon (Ph.D. Student): Although culture has been extensively studied and is considered a main driver of evolution in humans, it remains fairly controversial in animals. The objective of my thesis is, therefore, to use sperm whale as an example of the extent of culture in non-humans and highlight the importance of incorporating culture into mainstream biology. This will be achieved by comparing habitat use and behaviour between sperm whale vocal clans.
Ana Eguiguren (Ph.D. Student): While studying sperm whale communication has revealed a great deal about sperm whale sociality and culture, it is still unclear how these sounds are structured and what are the “rules” with which they are exchanged. For my project, I will derive tools from human musicology to explore these questions. I am specifically interested in finding if there are universal rhythmic traits in sperm communication, and if any are variable across oceans, clans, and social contexts. Studying this will allow us to compare sperm whale communication to that of other species, and further our understanding of processes that shape communication.