University of St Andrews

Dr Luke Rendell
MASTS Lecturer in Biology

Harold Mitchell Building
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 9TH

Hi. I am a Lecturer in Biology supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS). I am affiliated with the Scottish Ocean Institute, Sea Mammal Research Unit, the Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, and the Institute of Behavioural and Neural Sciences. I have broad research interests, largely centred around the evolution of learning, behaviour and communication, with a special focus on marine mammals.

My Researcher ID profile:


Our new book, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is now available - even at Amazon!


An important part of my post-doctoral work was the running of a computer tournament of social learning strategies. Click here to find out more. We are now running a second tournament, this time with 25,000 euros prize money available! Click here to find out more

Current projects

Sperm whale society and ecology
I have been studying the ecology, communication and societies of sperm whales, the largest of the toothed whales, showing how long lasting social groups use distinctive vocal dialects that appear to be culturally transmitted.

Culture in whales and dolphins
In whales and dolphins we find examples of both complex communication and apparently widespread social learning, a simple form of culture. I am using statistical models to assess the evidence for social learning in wild cetaceans.

Evolutionary modelling
I also use evolutionary simulation models to understand how these processes like social learning might have evolved, and how they might be related to the evolution of other kinds of behaviour, such as cooperation and niche-construction.

Human social learning
I use experimental approaches to understand how we negotiate the trade-offs involved in deciding whether to use social information to make simple decisions, as a window into how we have evolved to make best use of our cultural inheritance.

East Coast Marine Mammal Acoustic Study (ECOMMAS)
We are deploying passive listening buoys along the Scottish coastline in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science to monitor the impact of coastal windfarm development and also to give insight into acoustic behaviour of marine mammals.

Project opportunities:
I would encourage anyone interested in an MPhil or Phd in any of the areas listed above to get in touch with me to discuss projects and think about funding.


Dr Charlotte Dunn finished her PhD "Insights into Blainville's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) communication" in January 2015

Dr Laurel Fogarty completed her PhD, co-supervised with Kevin Laland and titled "From social learning to culture: Mathematical and computational models of cultural evolution" in June 2012


"The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns something from it, learns that the first rule of life is living"
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

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Morgan, TJH, Uomini, NT , Rendell, LE , Chouinard-Thuly, L, Street, SE , Lewis, HM , Cross, CP , Evans, C , Kearney, R, de la Torre, I , Whiten, A & Laland, KN 2015, ' Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language ' Nature Communications , vol 6, 6029.
Gero, S & Rendell, LE 2015, ' Oceanic societies: studying cetaceans with a social network approach '. in J Krause, R James, DW Franks & DP Croft (eds), Animal Social Networks. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 139-149.
Whitehead, H & Rendell, LE 2014, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins . University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Carpinelli, E, Gauffier, P, Verborgh, P, Airoldi, S, David, L, Di-Méglio, N , Cañadas, A , Frantzis, A , Rendell, L , Lewis, T, Mussi, B, Pace, DS & De Stephanis, R 2014, ' Assessing sperm whale ( Physeter macrocephalus ) movements within the western Mediterranean Sea through photo-identification ' Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems , vol 24, no. S1, pp. 23-30.
Rendell, L , Simião, S, Brotons, JM, Airoldi, S, Fasano, D & Gannier, A 2014, ' Abundance and movements of sperm whales in the western Mediterranean basin ' Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems , vol 24, no. S1, pp. 31-40.
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