Whales and Mourning

Throughout the years, mourning has been considered a human characteristic with the loss of a loved one. Over the years, though, scientists have observed the acts of mourning with other animals such as elephants and gorillas. In fact, one case showed wild elephants in a herd trying to move their dead matriarch. These elephants, after they finally accepted her death, use tree branches and leaves to cover her body, then stood around for two days before they dispersed. More recently, scientists are learning that whales also mourn when they lose their companion or offspring.

A university biologist observed 14 instances of whale conduct after a loss. Half of these observations showed grieving or mourning behaviors. They each had similar grieving patterns among the different types of whales studied.

In Washington, an incident was observed where a female orca balanced her dead newborn owner head to keep it from sinking. In another instance, a grieving mother and her dead infant were protected by predators by their part of short-finned pilot wells as they formed a circle around her and her calf. These behaviors can cost the animals a lot since it takes them away from their typical survival activities such as socializing, mating, and foraging for food. Therefore, it makes no sense the animals would participate in this act unless they were actually grieving. For some animals, the behavior could be merely them exploring the situation or curiosity. When the whales spend so much time and energy to clean to their dead loved one, or touch them repeatedly using their fans, it is a lot more likely to be mourning.

Whales are social animals that are very intelligent, so this finding is not a big surprise to most scientists. They are a lot like humans in that they have lifelong bonds and can form strong friendships. Hopefully, as more people understand how wells mourn and feel deeply, they will begin to treat these magnificent animals with more respect and caution.

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