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Arts & Science Program

First-year Arts & Science Capstone Project: Olli Zelek

Olli ZelekOlli Zelek

Winter 2024 Capstone Project Title: The Culture of Cetaceans: Rethinking Human Uniqueness

Project Description: This capstone examines the culture and language displayed by cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) to question the perceived uniqueness of humanity. I examine the impacts on our theories, scientific assumptions, and practices that manifest because we are not, as previously assumed, singular in our cultural capacities. This capstone presents an overview of the studies that establish the capacities of cetaceans and questions how the destabilization of human uniqueness manifests.

The 1C06 Capstone experience: I chose this topic because I am very passionate about studying wildlife, and cetaceans, being such an interesting case of animal intelligence, bring up a lot of questions about human perceptions of wildlife. The culture of cetaceans has been a topic of scientific debate throughout the 21st century, so it was very interesting to observe the scientific community seemingly change their mind about cetaceans being, in some ways, comparable to humans over the past 20-odd years.

Key Takeaways: This project truly reestablished my belief that science is a field about asking questions that may seem odd or impossible. The culture of cetaceans was once scoffed at as a theory, but now presents many new and exciting opportunities for study.

Olli Zelek Capstone Poster

Click here to read interviews with the other first year Arts & Science students.