- Animal behaviorists have traditionally shied away from attributing human emotions, such as grief, to responses by animals.
- But a growing body of evidence indicates that species ranging from dolphins to ducks mourn the passing of relatives and close companions.
- These observations suggest that although the ways in which we mourn may be uniquely human, our capacity for grief has deep evolutionary roots.
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On a research vessel in the waters off Greece's Amvrakikos Gulf, Joan Gonzalvo watched a female bottlenose dolphin in obvious distress. Over and over again, the dolphin pushed a newborn calf, almost certainly her own, away from the observers' boat and against the current with her snout and pectoral fins. It was as if she wanted to nudge her baby into motion—but to no avail. The baby was dead. Floating under direct sunlight on a hot day, its body quickly began to decay; occasionally the mother removed pieces of dead skin and loose tissue from the corpse.
When the female dolphin continued to behave in this way into a second day, Gonzalvo and his colleagues on the boat grew concerned: in addition to fussing with the calf, she was not eating normally, behavior that could be risky for her health, given dolphins' high metabolism. Three other dolphins from the Amvrakikos population of about 150 approached the pair, but none disrupted the mother's behavior or followed suit.
This article was originally published with the title When Animals Mourn.