The Lost Cultures of Whales | Shane Gero | TEDxOttawa

Translator: Elena Montrasio
Reviewer: Patrizia C Romeo Tomasini Most of the ocean is dark. It’s a darkness so deep that only three people
have ever reached its end. It’s a darkness so vast that it covers the world’s
longest mountain range, and its grandest canyons. It’s an elusive dark,
that covers most of our planet. We have put people on the Moon
and robots on Mars, but the deepest parts
of our world’s oceans, where the sperm whales make their home, are still mostly a mystery. In 2005, I started the Dominica
Sperm Whale Project, and over the last 14 years, I’ve literally spent thousands of hours
in the company of sperm-whale families. It’s really been the first time that anyone’s come to know
these biblical Leviathans as individuals, with personalities, as brothers, and sisters,
and mothers, and babysitters. Let me introduce you to Enigma. I followed Enigma’s family
since before he was born. I watched him nurse from his mom,
and play with his cousins. I watched him dive deeply with his mother
for the very first time. When Enigma was born,
he was three meters long, in a metric ton, you know, average for a sperm whale. But in about 25 years time,
when Enigma is fully grown, he’ll be as long as two school buses
and weigh as much as ten of them. The male sperm whale is one
of the largest animals on the planet. He will become Moby Dick. And when his mom, Mysterio,
makes deep dives, she’s one of the longest
and deepest divers on the planet. She can hold her breath
for over an hour, and make dives three times as deep
as a modern nuclear attack submarine. Most of her life will be spent
in the darkness of the deep ocean, and only ten minutes out of every hour will be spent in the part of the ocean
that the light touches. As a result, her world
is a world of sound. And just like bats, sperm whales
have evolved a system of echolocation, to see in the dark. Her unique nose has evolved as the most powerful
natural sonar system on the planet. She uses it to dive deeply into the ocean
to hunt for squid and, as a result, is a significant part
of the ocean ecosystem. Globally, sperm whales remove
as much biomass from the ocean as all of humanity’s fisheries combined. But Enigma is still young, and so he’ll stay at the surface,
next to my boat, while his aunt Pinchy
is up at the surface giving milk to his younger cousin Tweak. Sperm whale society is matrilineal, it’s grandmothers, mothers, and daughters
who live together for life, caring for each other,
and defending their family. Family is critical to survival. In the vast darkness of the open ocean,
all that they have is each other. Pinchy, Tweak, Quasi, Scar, Fingers, Digit, Mysterio, and Enigma. These are all animals in a family
that I’ve called The Group of Seven. We give them names mostly based on physical characteristics
that allow us to recognize them. Fingers got her moniker because, early on,
she had two marks on her right fluke that looked like
she was giving the peace sign. So, some of these names
seem pretty flippant, but we don’t give them
these names lightly. It makes an important point
about individual identity. These animals are not interchangeable. Pinchy is not fingers, and when one of them dies,
all of them who knew her will be affected. And when one is born,
it’s a cause for celebration. The Group of Seven is the best
studied family of sperm whales in the world, and they’ve taught me
all the minutiae of life as a family in the open ocean. They live rich and complex lives in parts of the world
that we find difficult to even explore. It’s a community of neighboring families that is really a multicultural,
oceanic society. Behavior is what you do,
but culture is how you do it. Sperm whales are all sperm whales,
they do the same thing, so they feed, they dive,
they swim, they defend their babies. But how they do it is different, just like some humans
have learned to eat with forks and other humans have learned
to eat with chopsticks, sperm whales differ in how they eat,
what they eat, where they roam, how far they roam, their social behavior, and probably a whole bunch
of cultural ways we don’t understand yet. And they appear to identify these cultures
with distinct dialects, distinct sets of “codas.” (Sperm whale clicks). Every family that speaks
the same dialect we call a clan. The Group of Seven belongs
to the Eastern Caribbean clan. And in the Eastern Caribbean,
they use about 22 different coda patterns; one to recognize individuals,
another set to recognize the families, and one unique one that they use
to mark their cultural clan. Every whale in the Eastern Caribbean
makes the one plus one plus three coda. (Sperm whale clicks) It’s unique to them, it’s only ever being recorded
in the Caribbean, and it’s been identical
for the last 30 years. It takes a newborn about two
or three years to learn to make it right. They’ll actually babble and make
a whole bunch of different sounds before learning to make
these calls accurately. And they need to make it right, because they need to be able to make their cultural clan,
where they belong, recognizable across these huge geographic scales
that these animals exist across. When two families
of sperm whales meet at sea, they need to be able
to recognize each other, because it turns out that families
that speak the same dialect, families from the same clan, will spend time together, and families that speak
a different dialect, from different clans, will not. Now, these whale cultures aren’t trivial. They’re part of their identity, just as my heritage
is a part of my identity. Where I come from
makes up so much of who I am, and who I am defines so much
of what I will do. Unfortunately, as a result
of climate change and human impacts, this clan that lives so near the islands,
so near to us, is at risk. There’s less than 300 animals left
in the Caribbean clan, and 1 in 3 babies born off Dominica
will not make it to their first birthday. April 3rd 2010, that’s the last day
I saw Enigma alive. The Group of Seven is now only three: Pinchy, Fingers and her new calf Digit. And in 2015, Digit got a rope-tied around her tail. She was only four. She doesn’t dive deeply anymore, and she’s struggling to survive. Fingers has had
to start nursing her again. Every calf counts, especially when families are so small. If these families are going
to perpetuate themselves, they need to make sure
that every calf survives, and that’s just not happening. Every year, when I leave, I wonder which one of these
newborn calves I won’t see again. Every year, when I come home
from the ocean, I wonder which whale
I know so well will be gone. Losing individual animals
that you know so well has been a tragedy for me. And faced with this new reality,
I’ve asked myself two questions: Why? Why are they dying? And the answer is:
it’s us, it’s all of us. Whales get hit by the ever-growing, ever-faster, ever larger,
ever omnipresent, shipping fleet that brings us the economy
from the around the world. Pinchy was hit in 2010, but she’s a lucky one, she survived, but she still has the scars
to remind her every day. And in her world of sound, I wonder how fearful she is
of the ever-present ship noise. Whales are also entangled
in our fishing gear, entangled to the extent
that the ropes cut into their flesh. Digit has been towing
around this rope for over two years. She’s only six. I have a five-year-old at home. It’s hard not to think
about how a chronic injury like this would affect the whole
dynamic of my family. This rope creates
substantial amounts of drag, and that drag is going to exhaust her. And as she grows, the rope that’s tied around her tail
will cinch it off. It’s hard. On a night like tonight,
that’s so exciting, it’s easy, really, to forget
that they’re out there struggling, and nursing, and living. Their lives go on in parallel
to ours, mostly unnoticed, and the worst thing we’ve ever done
to the citizens of the ocean is to have ignored them. We’ve been killing whales
for hundreds of years, but we do so now out of ignorance,
rather than intent. And if we’re going to change that,
we need to be able to speak with authority about what’s going on
out there in the world, and then question
those who have the authority to make real changes in the way
that we interact with our oceans. But the second question,
is an even heavier one, and critically important. What happens when they’re all gone? What do we lose, when we lose
an entire whale culture? And I don’t think that’s a question
that we’ve answered for ourselves, for humanity, for our own cultures, for our own identities. What is lost when we lose a way of life? Every culture, whale or otherwise,
is a set of solutions on how to survive the environment
in which we live. If we lose a culture, we lose all of the traditional
knowledge of how to succeed. And we can’t necessarily get that back. Even if the global population
of sperm whales could move back into the Caribbean, they would be other whales from elsewhere,
who do things differently. And there’s no saying
that they would survive, there’s no saying that they would succeed, and that’s an important point
about conservation. If we’re going to protect species,
we need to define biodiversity to include the definition
of cultural diversity. Sperm whales have been sperm whales for longer than we’ve been
walking upright. Their societies are far older
than our societies, and one of the reasons that they succeed,
is their cultural solutions. Traditionally, we’ve managed wildlife
around the world using genetics stocks, but genetics can’t preserve
the diversity of life. The diversity in a sperm whale life is in their cultural traditions,
just as it is in our own. Their cultural stories are simple: love your mom; learn from your grandmother’s experiences; be a good neighbor; care for each other; respect different solutions
to everyday problems, and share the burden of your day,
by working together. If I’ve learned one thing from spending time
in the culture of whales, it’s the power of community. Life is about the quality
of the relationships we build with those around us. And this is our community, and most of it is ocean. In the darkness of the hardest times, communities come together
to overcome unimaginable obstacles. And these problems are huge,
they’re on a global scale, and I don’t have the answer to everything. But know that we’re making progress, know that your small acts
of kindness and empathy can save whole lives, know that with every birth
of a new sperm whale calf it gives me hope for the next generation. So I’m here not to let us remain immune to the suffering that these whales
are going through, to not allow us to be ignorant
of the damage that we caused to parts of the world
that we don’t often see. But I’m also here to celebrate them, the beauty and magnificence
of a sperm whale. How amazing their lives are! If we can find such deep similarities between the life of a sperm whale
and our own lives, between their values and our values, how different can we all be? We need to come together
and learn from each other to live together on this shared planet. We need to respect
all people, and all species. If we’re going to preserve life,
ours and theirs, we need to coexist,
both above and below the surface. We need to value cultural diversity
in our societies and the ecosystem, but if I’m going to build
this new global community, I can’t do it alone. So I’m counting on you. Thank you. (Applause)

  1. if companies like monsanto stopped creating mega farms and transporting our food through plastic ( PLASTIC ruins sea life )and taught others how to farm and fish responsibly ( also some sort of biodegradable fish nets) instead this would solve the problem, but they don't wanna give up their lazy lifestyle. it's monsantos fault!!!!

  2. Stop all world shipping so fish won’t get hit just fly every single thing we use into the country he knows what’s causing the whale numbers to decline it’s us we should listen to him he can’t be laying can he

  3. humans are the worst not only are we contributing to our own downfall but we have to take everything else down with us😡😠😔😢

  4. They are so intelligent yet they get hit by the largest noisiest things in the ocean? In a zone they spend less than 10% of their lives in? Tragic yes. Complex? yes. Unique? yes. Supremely intelligent? I am doubting.

  5. ⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️⚠️ a solution would be to GO VEGAN so we drastically decrease our impact on the oceans. We can save fishes by eating them just like we can save lions by hunting them.

  6. Humans have done some pretty shameful things, but so have other animals. It's in our nature to do wrong to one another in order to survive; it's in our blood and has been since day one. All animals kill each other, that's a no brainer. Are we responsible for keeping them alive? Who're you to say we are? You don't actually know. Climate change? The planet has had climate change since day one, too. It's out of our control. I do agree it's important to figure out their language, in order to help and communicate with them.

  7. Whaling is genocide – simple as that. It's a crime against animality. If we found whale-like beings on another planet, we'd be lost in wonder (at least, initially). We don't need to find them. They're already here. And we continue to treat them like any other crop to be harvested. The future will judge us harshly. But by then it may already be too late. With people like Shane Gero around the situation is not entirely hopeless, but a lot more of us need to wake up.

  8. Shame on us! Shame on us! We have no respect for other sentient beings who share this planet with us! Who made us the owner of every being there is? when are we going to stop this abuse?………I can't take it anymore and feel helpless against the prevalent ignorance of human race…😢

  9. Japan, Iceland and Russia must not be allowed to kill these amazing, sentient, and intelligent creatures. We must act now. Write your senators and congress people to put pressure on the the US government to force these countries to stop killing whales. Fund more research to understand these intelligent beings, clean up our oceans, and bring awareness of marine issues to the general public.

  10. That damn rope… why have they not cut it off her? Why do nothing? The whales do not have hands… Humans do. The Whales are not able to bite through the rope… they should be able too… if they dare to go near the whale and help her.

  11. Jesus, this guys voice does a good job of unselling his point. What is this unpleasant tone of voice? It's like anti-charisma
    Also, don't hunt whales or use them for SeaWorld

  12. 0:50 They are actually truly biblical Leviathans. The bible is written in Hebrew and Leviathan is a word in Hebrew meaning whale in English.

  13. This is truly tragic but he definitely should have left out the part where he said that the worst thing we ever did to the citizens of the ocean is ignore them. I get his point but I mean … it's definitely worse to personally murder one with a spear like a goddamn caveman.

  14. how can we as individuals help to protect those magnificent creatures? do you guys know any volunteering action we can take, or any organization which we can donate? thank you 🙂

  15. So much for Japan being such a respectable culture and such. Maybe that's why mother nature just had to send in that huge tsunami on such a small piece of land. Maybe it was just a warning for them to change there fishing ways. As respectable as a culture japan may be, so much consumption to where the species is almost extinct is ridiculous, somethings got to give. I'm not saying all Japanese are to blame but they are the ones who currently the major whalers that continue to hunt whales regardless of what anybody says.

  16. Incredibly important talk. Since I was a child I have felt this deep connection with the ocean. Just like so many of us have. The work that people like Shane Gero does is terribly important. It feels frustrating not being able to do far more. All of us who are divers. There must be something we can do. I know that many of us who feel we belong to the sea, would give our lives gladly. If we could help our fellow beings of the blue world. We have to get more radical, more impeccable, if we want the ocean and its incredible habitants to live.

  17. We have to get rid of this cabal of death – the banksters and their deciples the politicians and insane mass media, the education system that produces system slaves en mass supported by an equally insane military/police complex.

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