Grieving Dolphin Carries the Body of its Dead Calf

Written by Stephen Messenger

While it may be true that wildlife behaviorists still have a lot to learn about how the emotional lives of animals compares with our own, feeling empathy towards other species, it would seem, requires no advanced degree or special training.

On a recent trip off the coast of southern California, a group of whale watchers chanced upon a rare and heartbreaking sight. As a pod of bottlenose dolphins passed nearby, their captain, Dave Anderson, spotted one adult dolphin carrying the body of a deceased calf upon its dorsal fin — apparently unwilling to part with its lifeless offspring.

“I believe this calf has been dead for many days, possibly weeks,” says Anderson “You can see the flesh is decaying. In my nearly twenty years on the water whale watching I have never seen this behavior. Nor have I ever seen anything quite as moving as this mother who refuses to let go of her poor calf.”

In a statement released with the haunting clip above, the seasoned boat captain suggests that life beneath the surface of the ocean might not be as emotionless as some are wont to believe:

This video sends a powerful message about how much a dolphin can care, it is a window into a dolphins heart. This animal is laboring under the strain of carrying this dead animal on its back day and night is probably keeping it near the surface so the departed dolphin can breathe. We can assume this because dolphins do not normally swim with their dorsal fins sticking out of the water continuously like this bottlenose did.

We can only imagine what happened; over half of all bottlenose calves die from disease and predators before their second birthday, and since we know that the family unit in dolphin pods is the mother and calf, this is almost certainly a mother and calf pair.

Thanks to other recent video clips and accounts of wild dolphins displaying what appears to be a complex capacity for emotion, that realm of experience once thought to be solely human seems to be shared more broadly.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.



JO MUNZ4 years ago

Animals, whether in the ocean, on land, in the air, continuously give evidence that they're emotional and sentient beings. This news of mother dolphin carrying her dead child is so heartbreaking, I have no humans we should and must protect our animals everywhere, including their natural habitats. I'm so, so, so sorry for this mother dolphin...

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright4 years ago

And there are those who insist that animals don't feel, don't grieve or have souls...........

I'm with Carol R and Spirit S 1000%..............great posts! Green stars coming your way.

Elke Henke
Past Member 4 years ago

every mother does such things for her baby - never mind if it was a human mother or an animal mother....

Waheeda S.
Waheeda E5 years ago

Heartbreaking. How is possible that people fail to see how much emotion and pain animals feel?

Sherri G.
Sherri G5 years ago

It still amazes me when man fails to see the intense pain felt by elephants when they lose a member of their family or gorillas and whales mourn their loss. Many many animals are sentient beings yet we just keep killing and abusing them. This mother dolphin did her job by letting man see how we cause and contribute to killing them. Hopefully someone can learn from her loyalty to her calf's life. Thank you Michelle your tribute is perfect.

Elisa Faulkner- Uriarte
Elisa F5 years ago

Heartbreaking :(

Peter Hamilton
Peter Hamilton5 years ago

Celebrate or mourn or remember how you want to on this Memorial Campaign site >

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin5 years ago

So sad to watch. But also evidence that animals feel grief and shows emotions.

Summerannie Moon
Summerannie M5 years ago

Animals have feelings as well as grieve and the more you look the more evidence is seen. My cat was totally besotted with my Budgie and were utterly good friends so much so was my cat always slept on the top of the budgie cage and the budgie would groom him and clean his whiskers. One day I hung my bird in his cage outside high up on the veranda and the cat next door jumped so high he pulled it down and thankfully my bird fleed, never to return again My cat cried and cried and cried and cried and got very depressed. I didnt know what to do b/c it was emotional and love of his friend. Till I got it.... I went outside and with my cat under my arm and gently told the story to him whilst rebuilding the cage, then he looked inside and saw nothing, I then dismantled it step by step and again telling him about his friend, Once I got to the base I allowed him to stand on it and you know a miracle took place. He understood and recovered that he had lost his friend My cat before the one i have now loved his female mate too. She died at a young age @ a few days off 3. He cried for her and called for her and he actually in English called her. I didnt know what to do that time and it bothered him daily even tho I talked to him, it didnt work b/c i had nothing to show him. Very sad indeed.