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Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Colossal Convergence

A Sri Lankan elephant in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo by Yasha Hetzel

A sperm whale flukes up off Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Photo by Asha de Vos

As a Sri Lankan, I have always been fascinated with elephants. They are part of our past, present and I pray they will be a part of our future. 

One day I happened upon this article that compared the life histories and social structure of two of my favourite species; elephants and whales - in this case, sperm whales. It's an easy to read article and comes highly recommended. The first two authors, Weilgart and Whitehead spent a few years in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s conducting research on sperm whales as part of the 'Tulip' expedition. Some of the results from their research are included in this paper.

Sperm whales and elephants share similar life histories and social structures, which include social females and roving males. Weilgart et al discuss recent results from long-term studies of sperm whales and African savannah elephants, describing an interesting example of convergent evolution and highlighting the vulnerability to exploitation that results from the mode of life that these animals have evolved.

Click on this link to read the full text

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