Barbara J. King on whale grief

July 25, 2016
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9780226155203From National Geographic:

More than six species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the body of a dead compatriot, probably a podmate or relative, scientists say in a new study.

The most likely explanation for the animals’ refusal to let go of the corpses: grief.

“They are mourning,” says study co-author Melissa Reggente, a biologist at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. “They are in pain and stressed. They know something is wrong.”

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.

Such findings add to the debate about whether animals feel emotion—and, if they do, how such emotions should influence human treatment of other creatures. (See “Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?”)

Animal grief can be defined as emotional distress coupled with a disruption of usual behavior, according to Barbara King, emeritus professor of anthropology at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and author of the book How Animals Grieve.
Barbara J. King has long positioned her scholarship at the forefront of our study of animal emotions—in works like How Animals Grieve and in her criticism, which regularly appears in the TLS, King pushes us to understand the complex inner lives of animals, neither wholly similar nor dissimilar to the realm of human affects. The National Geographic piece makes a compelling case for the importance of King’s work on animal grief, which she refuses to anthropomorphize, while at the same time, grounding her findings in observations of marine animal life. Warning though: it will make you feel your own feelings.
To read more about How Animals Grieve, click here.
To read the National Geographic piece in full, click here.
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