The humpback whale: Socially intelligent or just ‘winging’ it?

  • Thu 29 Apr 21

    10:00 - 11:00

  • Online


  • Event speaker

    Dr Rebecca Dunlop, University of Queensland

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars

  • Event organiser

    Life Sciences, School of

  • Contact details

    Dr Anna Sturrock

Please note that this event is at 10am GMT, instead of our normal 1pm.

Humpback whales are not renowned for having a complex social structure.

During the breeding season they do not form long-term and repeated associations with individuals, but instead, have a fluid system where groups of males and females form temporarily.

However, male-male conflict behaviour in humpback whales, when studying it through the prism of male social networks, involves a complex decision-making process. This complexity suggests a form of social intelligence in this species. In addition, their social communication is also relatively complex compared to many other mammalian species.

Given that communicative complexity and social complexity go hand in hand, perhaps humpback whales are not the socially simple species we once thought.


Originally from Ireland, Rebecca has a BSc (Honours) degree in Environmental Biology, a PhD in fish neuroethology from The Queen’s University of Belfast and a post-doc in humpback whale social communication. She began lecturing in the School of Veterinary Science in  animal physiology at the University of Queensland in 2010, and then moved to the School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland in 2021.

She is the Director of the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratories, based at North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, where she carries out research into: acoustic communication and behaviour in humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins; the affects of noise on humpback acoustic behaviour; cetacean population dynamics; and endocrine physiology in cetaceans.

How to attend

Please register on Zoom to attend this online event. If you have any queries email Dr Anna Sturrock (anna.sturrock@essex.ac.uk).

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