Whales and Dolphins Mourn Their Dead Too

July 22, 2016

Just in case you wanted to feel really sad today, scientists have discovered that at least seven species of marine mammals mourn the death of family or friends.

The study identified mammals that clung to the bodies of dead compatriots, and kept vigil over a dead companion. Although they can’t determine for sure the cause behind this behaviour, the most likely explanation the researchers came to? The animals are grieving.

“The present study helps to corroborate that adults mourning their dead young is a common and globally widespread behaviour in long-lived and highly sociable/cohesive species of mammals,” the researchers from University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy wrote in the Journal of Mammalogy.

The study compiled observations from 14 events, and seven different marine mammals: Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus); spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris); killer whales (Orcinus orca); Australian humpback dolphins (Sousa sahulensis); sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus); Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus); and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus).

But why are these animals behaving like this, and why is it so widespread? Mourning a dead companion is a time intensive and costly action, which takes away from animals finding food, mating, and creating interactions with other live animals – so it doesn’t make much sense from an evolutionary perspective. Which is why the researchers concluded that they’re likely to be genuinely grieving.

“We found it is very common, and [there is] a worldwide distribution of this behaviour,” says study co-author Melissa Reggente, in an interview with National Geographic’s Traci Watson. “They are in pain and stressed. They know something is wrong.”

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