The following paper has just been published:

Whitehead H (2017) Gene–culture coevolution in whales and dolphins. Proc Natl 
Acad Sci USA 114:7814–7821

It is available (open access) at:

A commentary "Can animal culture drive evolution?" by Carolyn Beans, exploring 
wider issues, accompanies it:

Whales and dolphins (Cetacea) have excellent social learning skills as well as 
a long and strong mother–calf bond. These features produce stable cultures, 
and, in some species, sympatric groups with different cultures. There is 
evidence and speculation that this cultural transmission of behavior has 
affected gene distributions. Culture seems to have driven killer whales into 
distinct ecotypes, which may be incipient species or subspecies. There are 
ecotype-specific signals of selection in functional genes that correspond to 
cultural foraging behavior and habitat use by the different ecotypes. The five 
species of whale with matrilineal social systems have remarkably low diversity 
of mtDNA. Cultural hitchhiking, the transmission of functionally neutral genes 
in parallel with selective cultural traits, is a plausible hypothesis for this 
low diversity, especially in sperm whales. In killer whales the ecotype 
divisions, together with founding bottlenecks, selection, and cultural 
hitchhiking, likely explain the low mtDNA diversity. Several cetacean species 
show habitat-specific distributions of mtDNA haplotypes, probably the result of 
mother–offspring cultural transmission of migration routes or destinations. In 
bottlenose dolphins, remarkable small-scale differences in haplotype 
distribution result from maternal cultural transmission of foraging methods, 
and large-scale redistributions of sperm whale cultural clans in the Pacific 
have likely changed mitochondrial genetic geography. With the acceleration of 
genomics new results should come fast, but understanding gene–culture 
coevolution will be hampered by the measured pace of research on the 
socio-cultural side of cetacean biology.

Hal Whitehead, Dalhousie University
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