Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Grief By a Mother Whale and Coyote Pup Survival

These two videos of events rarely observed in the wild are well worth watching.

Grief beneath the surface

It's not all that common to see footage of grief in wild cetaceans. My friend and colleague Alma Massaro sent me the link to this video of a mother cetacean grieving the loss of young. A translation of the Italian text goes as follows:

An adult cetacean carries the lifeless body of a youngster for hours on end. Alberto Gherli, from the White Wave Maldives, recorded this video in the Maldives archipelago. Looking at the condition of the young's body, it is possible to assume that the adult had cared to the young for days and nights—even the adult's body looks damaged by the sun. It is well-known that whales have an instinct to push inanimate bodies even if they belong to other species (as has happened to some shipwrecked people who have been helped by cetaceans). And this behavior is more expected to happen when a mother loses her child. This could be the case in this video but it is hard to confirm without a genetic analysis, as Elena Valsecchi says. However the differences in the size of the two bodies would suggest that they are a mother and her offspring. If this is the case, it shows that this behavior could last for a long period, as the decomposition of the youngster's body shows.

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It's known that many animals grieve, and just recently when a panda baby died at the National Zoo in Washington D. C., it was noted that the mother emitted distress vocalizations as her baby was dying. Thus, I was rather surpirsed when I read that "zoo officials said it was impossible to guess the mental state of Mei Xiang after the death of her baby." Impossible? Only if one wants to rob other animals of their deep and rich emotional lives. A number of panda experts have told me that panda mothers are deeply emotional and definitely grieve the loss of their young. 

A heartwarming story of the survival of five coyotes pups

Here's another story I found very interesting. It concerns the survival of five coyote pups whose mother and father were killed when the pups were about six weeks old. It's rare for young coyotes or other animals to survive without their parents. Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense, narrates this heartwarming story. 

Stay tuned for more about the fascinating lives of animals, some of whom somehow manage to survive in a human-dominated world.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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