Killer whales use sonic sounds called codas to communicate – they have codas for their community, their family unit, for individuals. They know who they are with and whom they want to be with. At the first sign of threat, they can call for backup. They have been seen to form military-like defence formations when being attacked and hunted by ships.
Safina explores culture in the animal kingdom, how it spreads in populations, how the loss of culture threatens survival and how we cannot claim a monopoly on social cultures. He travels with killer whales, macaws and chimpanzees but also covers myriads of stories about different birds, orcas, elephants, bonobos; even insects!
Whales can live up to 80 years in the wild. When older individuals are killed, the community suffers from the loss of their knowledge, including where to go when food is scarce. And yet, whale-hunting still threatens their existence. Safina’s incredulity at what mankind and capitalism are capable of is evident. His stories spotlight the sheer greed, illogic and self-interest that humanity indulges in to obliterate societies in the sea – because that’s what they are. Canons exploding a whale’s body, blood spilling over the waters. We must know that a dead whale goes in pet food and flavouring for canned soups.
Macaws, from the parrot family, can mate for life and live for upward of 50 years. They have distinct personalities and preferred ways of parenting and raising their children. Thanks to deforestation, their habitats are shrinking.
Chimpanzees are known to be violent but Safina learns of their empathy and familial bonds – the way mothers teach their children, just like humans. Any violent tendencies are reflected in our own species. These, and countless others, including bees (!) know who others in their communities are, remember the past and plan for the future. What more do we need to take them seriously?
Safina combines fact, experience and exploration into a vast, moving account that makes you wonder what on earth gives us the right to think we are the most important creatures walking this planet.