Why Do These Whales Keep Rubbing Themselves on the Same Beaches?

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Published on Vice.com

For humans, family tradition might mean getting drunk on a holiday long weekend. For some whales, tradition could mean getting together for a nice family rub on the beach.

An amateur video of a rare beach-rubbing behaviour in a pod of northern orca whales is providing a unique glimpse into one of the animals’ most complex and poorly understood social rituals. Certain resident northern populations are the only orcas known to engage in beach rubbing, and genetically similar southern pods never go rubbing at all.

Many researchers believe that beach-rubbing is a prime example of genuine animal culture—the idea that sub-populations of species can form and maintain learned behaviours over generations. These northern populations seem to teach new calves to return to only certain very short stretches of beach for rubbing, and this preference persists for a whale’s entire life