Orca carried a dead baby for 17 days – what does this tell us about the emotions of animals

We often suggest not to anthropomorphize Pets, attributing to them the mind and emotions, which they do not possess. All true, however, the “market of emotions” monopolized homo sapiens not fully: not so long ago the whole world watched as grieving for the dead baby orca.

Photo: Christopher Michel / Flickr

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In early August, the researchers, and with them – and millions of concerned readers media – watch almost live a very unusual mountain. For nearly three weeks, the female killer whale – a giant predatory whale, is carried on the head of the dead body of her cub along the Pacific coast of Washington state in the Northwest USA.

How do the scientists were able to observe a whale in the sea? The fact that this flock of giant sea mammals has long been under the scrutiny of researchers: whales threatened with extinction. So the news she gets is not the first time.

Photo: Michael Weiss/AP

The whale that lost a child, scientists call J35. On July 24 she gave birth to a cub, which died in half an hour to reassure scientists swimming with their mother. His body began to sink, but his mother lifted him up to the surface and continued to carry them. After a few hours, at sunset, the researchers who are watching the flock, watched a frightening and solemn picture. J35 and six females of killer whales gathered in a tight ring at the entrance to the Bay so that he passed through moonlight. Orcas moved the beam of the moon as his movements, it was like a funeral ritual.

However, after that the mother left the baby, she carried him on his back for 17 days. Together they covered a distance of about 1600 kilometers, the killer left the body only when it began to decompose.

Not eaten and not hunted

Scientists from the Center for whale research in Washington state say that three years have passed since then, as they watched born and surviving baby orcas. Over the past 20 years were born 40 orcas, and died – 72. Observed a flock refers to the so-called southern resident killer whales. “Resident” orcas are different from the “transit” that does not travel the world and live in the same coastal area.

Some scientists believe that the transit and resident orcas are different species. They have different type of power (resident orcas feed on fish and shellfish, and transit – smaller marine mammals), a different type of “socialization” (resident orcas live in large flocks, and transit travel in small groups of 2-6 animals), but most importantly, the two species can sometimes be “cross-marriages”.

The southern resident orca community, living off the coast of Vancouver, is recognized as endangered species in 2005. They are so small that scientists know all the animals in the enumeration. The community is represented by three packs, named by the letters J, K and L. the J Pack consists of 23 individuals, flock, K – 18, the pack L – 35. Inside swarms of animal names consist of the letters of the pack and number (number is unique to the animal and saved him after the death). The female J35 and brought the pack possible the 24th member, but he didn’t survive.

Photo: Taylor Shedd, Soundwatch / seattletimes.com

Reducing “population” is facilitated by several factors: their stun sound locators and the noise of ship engines, and the declining population of Chinook salmon, the giant Pacific salmon – puts them on a starvation diet. In addition, they are more likely to suffer from all types of dirt: killer whales are at the top of the food chain and get all cumulative poisons like heavy metals that has accumulated the fish that they feed on. Salmon, in turn, is dying out due to built on rivers dams. As the sturgeon in the Caspian sea, the Chinook salmon need to move up the river for reproduction, and dams are not allowed to do.

Upset at the death of a baby orca not only strayed from the pack – she had not eaten and not hunted. When, after 17 days, she still left the body and returned to the hunt and playing with his flock, the scientists breathed a sigh of relief.

Photo: AP

What makes whales so special that draws the attention of scientists and governments in several countries (program for the conservation of populations is conducted jointly by Canada and the United States)?

The smartest after us

Whales and dolphins are very smart, judging by the size of the brain. If you compare the size of the brain compared to the body, the person wins this competition. However, followed by whales and dolphins, then apes, elephants and other animals.

That is, in terms of size and degree of development of the brain “they” almost “we”.

And the ability to study the brain using magnetic resonance imaging allowed us to understand which areas of their brain are most developed. These data can be compared with the behavior of whales and try to understand what are their “superpowers”.

Attention was drawn to the part of the brain of whales and dolphins, called the limbic system. Whales and dolphins share that piece of brain even bigger and more developed than in humans. And scientists know that this part of the brain responsible for producing emotions, but also in some way connected with thinking. Her giperatidnosti have a whale, not observed neither in humans nor in other mammals, suggests that this part was need them more in the process of evolution.

And the most emotional

Of course, not directly say that the brain of a whale is capable of stronger emotions than a human brain. However, if we assume than hyperacuity part of the brain of a killer whale performs the same function as in other mammals, we can assume that these animals can do some very complex and difficult job with emotions. From a behavioural point of view, scientists see manifestations of this in the unprecedented strong social relationships in flocks of marine mammals. Stronger than a human. Some scientists say that a pack of killer whales has “distributed person.”

Of course, this hypothesis is very difficult to confirm directly. However, the analysis of the behavior of the flocks of killer whales and dolphins suggests that they are little more than a group of individuals. Pointing to this behavior of the pack when one of its members captured or wounded. The same mystery is the phenomenon of their collective ejection ashore. Perhaps the explanation is that they define themselves not as individuals, but as part of their social group. Figuratively speaking, they are alien to what we now call emotional capitalism – the ability to abstract from their environment, if necessary.

All these are only hypotheses, but they describe a very real behavior.

In some cases, when the killer whale dies-the mother dies, and her male descendants. They stop there and are in a condition, which people would describe as clinical depression. Which leads to death.

To compare this behaviour with people does not work, the closest it is to land a gregarious animal – hoofed animals. This is natural: ungulates – are genetically the closest relatives of whales. However, the herd have a whale compared to ungulates went to a whole different level, their pack show special solidarity and emotionally, and in the course of joint action.

In light of these data the behavior of the mother whale, is not willing to part with the dead body of a baby, does not look strange artifact inanimate world of nature and the natural behavior of the representative of her emotional state species.

Photo: Ken Balcomb/Center for Whale Research

Not only suffer

Special abilities whale are not confined to emotions. Research shows that it is a very intelligent animal and, in terms of learning, understanding characters, solving problems.

Bottlenose dolphins (the most common inhabitants of the Dolphinarium) can recognize themselves in mirrors and can even use something like tools. So, in 1984, American scientists noticed that bottlenose dolphins use marine sponges to protect the noses in search of food. Before the hunt they put a sponge on the nose as gloves, to avoid damage to the sharp coral and rocks.

Scientists interested in this phenomenon and found that it is not instinct or genetics, but are learned and transmitted as culture skill. The first “subconsicously” was a Mature bottlenose dolphins-female, who then passed their skills to daughters. Not all in the same group could learn this, and then on the basis of skills, there is some social segregation, “clever-subcanonical” friends only with the same clever.

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