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New babies bring hope for endangered Southern Resident orcas

New babies bring hope for endangered Southern Resident orcas

A silver lining of this strange year was the news that Tahlequah, the orca who...
Mass stranding of pilot whales in Tasmania

Mass stranding of pilot whales in Tasmania

Over 450 pilot whales have stranded in various locations along a stretch of coastline in...
Success! France to ban captivity of whales and dolphins in marine parks

Success! France to ban captivity of whales and dolphins in marine parks

WDC’s continued campaigning to end the keeping of whales and dolphins in captive facilities for...
Belugas take ‘little steps’ into the ocean sanctuary

Belugas take ‘little steps’ into the ocean sanctuary

We are pleased to confirm that beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, have taken...
Tahlequah, the Southern Resident orca, gives birth to healthy calf

Tahlequah, the Southern Resident orca, gives birth to healthy calf

J35 and J57. Photo by Katie Jones, Center for Whale Research / Permit #21238 Tahlequah...
Why do female orcas live so long after they stop having babies?

Why do female orcas live so long after they stop having babies?

Orcas are one of only five species known to experience menopause and females can live...
Humpback whales swim up river in Kakadu National Park

Humpback whales swim up river in Kakadu National Park

Wildlife experts in Australia's Northern Territory are monitoring a humpback whale that has travelled 18...
WDC scientists join call for global action to protect whales and dolphins from extinction

WDC scientists join call for global action to protect whales and dolphins from extinction

Scientists from Whale and Dolphin Conservation, along with over 250 other experts from 40 countries,...

Whales and dolphins mourning their dead?

There’s some  debate about what biologists call epimeletic behaviour in whales and dolphins. Essentially, this refers to the giving of care or attention to another individual. The debate rarely centres around identifying the act itself, which is often easy to recognise, particularly where it involves care or attention from a healthy individual being focussed upon a dolphin or whale that is sick, injured, or even dead. Instead, the debate centres primarily on motivation and the possible biological purpose of such behaviour.

Bernd Würsig and some of his students from Texas A&M University in the USA, provide some compelling commentary to footage they captured of this type of focussed attention in a striped dolphin (a pelagic species).  

A review of evidence for nurturant behaviour (where the care or attention is specifically focused on younger individuals) in seven species of toothed whales and dolphins was published recently in the Journal of Mammalogy. Among several accounts of dolphin species either carrying dead calves or attempting to keep them at the surface for air, the review also includes details of pilot whales carrying dead calves in varying states of decomposition (some rather gruesomely, with 90% of their skin decomposed). There is even an account of an adult (likely female) sperm whale swimming with a dead calf in her mouth The authors conclude that the evidence from these species helps ‘corroborate that adults mourning their dead young is a common and globally widespread behavior in long-lived and highly sociable/cohesive species of mammals’.

This research has also been reported in National Geographic which WDC hopes will help to widen the debate around grief in other species.