What could whales, macaws, and chimpanzees possibly have in common? Usually, the correct answer would be “not much”. However, now, what they have in common is that these three very different species are featured in Carl Safina’s beautifully written new book, “Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace”. Without resorting to textbook-ese, he examines the importance of culture in the lives of sperm whales, macaws, and chimpanzees, and explains the differences between instinctual behavior and culturally influenced behavior. For example, all sperm whales hunt for food underwater, then come to the surface to breathe. That’s instinctual. Learning from others in the group where the food is and how to get it, that’s cultural. It is information unique to that clan, living in a particular area, and communicated amongst the clan members. Other sperm whale clans hunt and feed differently, based on their circumstances. The fact that whale clans create their own unique cultures allows all to adapt and survive in this sometimes harsh world. Dr. Safina also studied brightly colored macaws to determine if their astounding beauty has evolved, at least in part, due to cultural reasons. (His conclusion? It has.) And, in the world of chimpanzees, due to the males fighting for dominance and stature, the culture is sometimes violent (sound familiar fellow humans?). But, many chimpanzees learn how to survive and keep their group together, and that becomes part of the culture, too. Throughout “Becoming Wild”, Dr. Safina reminds us that “culture” was long thought to be exclusive to humans, and animals were thought to be purely instinctual. The sometimes surprising research is teaching us otherwise. This book begs the question: Why are we surprised when animals behave in ways that we have always thought were exclusively human? Carl Safina says “The basis for our surprise is our ignorance, our self-isolation, our insecurity, our need to be the best thing that has happened since stars were born.” Yeah. What he said.