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Whale Wisdom

Synopsis

This film sets out to show what marine biologists have suspected for years, that whales are much more sophisticated than most of us realise. Thanks to cutting-edge science it has emerged that whales are not only intelligent, but use their intelligence to share knowledge and change their behaviour accordingly.

Human society is based on cultural exchange. It has long been thought that this is something that makes humans truly exceptional. However, animal behaviourists have shown that other species – apes, elephants, dolphins, wolves and even crows – have cultures too. Now the culture club has a new member, the whale.

Orcas, humpback and sperm whales are the main species that marine scientists study to prove culture. Whale culture is measured by the level of sharing of information.

Diving and experiencing the whales up close, world-renowned filmmaker and marine biologist Rick Rosenthal is on a quest to discover not only what whales are doing – but even what they might be thinking.

Sperm whales communicate by creating clicking sounds, a form of sonar used for communication. Every whale creates its own distinctive sound which helps to keep the pod together.

Humpback whale navigation is second to none. They can move across huge stretches of ocean with pin-point accuracy. But are they led by instinct alone? Are they reading signs in the sea and sky? Or do they use shared knowledge to find their way? Scientists from all over the planet try to find answers.

A newly observed hunting technique among humpback whales indicates exchange and even theft. The humpbacks have learned to interpret the collaborating orcas’ calls. At the right moment, the humpback whales strike and feast on the giant schools of herring herded by the orcas. By sharing this information with their fellow whales, they all learn to interpret the orcas’ calls.

Whales have one more surprise in store: each year, humpbacks create a new “song”, the purpose of which is still heavily debated – it’s picked up by all the males in the Southern Pacific Ocean, until it ends up being heard everywhere. The elegant use of ultrasonography mapping illustrates the movement of this year’s hit tune across the waters.

The song sharing is not an instinctive behaviour but a sharing of information: More evidence for Rick Rosenthal that this is a true cultural exchange.

Filmed from above and below water; using kayaks, boats, helicopters and drones; accompanied by renowned scientists and marine biologists, Rick Rosenthal’s mission is to shine a new light on the culture and wisdom of whales.