Just last week a book called The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins by world-renowned researchers Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendall appeared at my door (the Kindle edition is available here). I've been anxiously waiting for it to arrive and consumed it last night and early this morning. (It was far better than my coffee!) Of course, I look forward to rereading it many times for it is that good. As the book's description notes, "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." And, there is much more.
It's difficult to know where to begin to review this classic, scholarly yet easy to read, and incredibly well referenced book, replete with 92 pages of notes and references. Right up front Drs. Whitehead and Rendall note, "To biologists like us, culture is a flow of information moving from animal to animal. The movement of information is the basis of biology. ... The great evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith identified cultural inheritance, this process of learning from others, as the most recent major evolutionary transition in the history of life on earth. He labeled it 'much the most important modification' of genetically based evolutionary theory." (p. 13) The authors go on to note that "the cultural transfer of information is, potentially at least, much more flexible than genetic reproduction. ... So, when culture takes hold of a species, everything changes. Extraordinary new ideas are developed from old ideas and passed on." (p. 15) Charles Darwin wrote about culture as a form of inheritance, and the noted biologist and prolific writer Richard Dawkins coined the word "meme" as "the cultural analogue of genes." (p. 27)