animal behavior

Whales Cling to the Bodies of Their Dead Loved Ones

Photo: Bryce Flynn

If you’ve read much about whales, or seen the incredibly depressing and moving documentary Blackfish, for that matter, you probably know that scientists have found them to be remarkable complex, “sophisticated” — for lack of a better, less anthropomorphizing term — creatures. From their family structures to the songs they use to communicate great differences, they are among the more fascinating creatures on their planet.

Now, a study lead-authored by Melissa Reggente of the University of Milano-Bicocca suggests we can maybe add another sophisticated behavior to the list: grieving.

National Geographic’s Traci Watson reports:

For the study, Reggente and colleagues gathered reports, mostly unpublished, of grieving behavior in seven whale species, from the huge sperm whale to the relatively petite spinner dolphin.

They found all seven species have been seen keeping company with their dead in oceans around the globe, according to the study, published recently in the Journal of Mammalogy.

“We found it is very common, and [there is] a worldwide distribution of this behavior,” Reggente says.

As Watson points out, this study fits in with some other evidence that humans aren’t the only species to demonstrably grieve. “Scientists have found a growing number of species, from giraffes to chimps, that behave as if stricken with grief. Elephants, for example, return again and again to the body of a dead companion.” She also embedded this video of what appears to be a grieving dolphin carrying around its calf’s body:

Animal emotions are really, really fascinating. And heartbreaking.

Whales Cling to the Bodies of Their Dead Loved Ones