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What the grieving mother orca ‘Tahlequah’ tells us about how animals experience death

A growing body of scientific evidence supports the idea that nonhuman animals are aware of death, can experience grief and will sometimes mourn for or ritualize their dead.

JESSICA PIERCE: ‘For many weeks, news of a mother orca carrying her dead infant through the icy waters of the Salish Sea captured the attention of many around the world. Keeping the infant afloat as best she could, the orca, named Tahlequah, also known as J35 by scientists, persisted for 17 days, before finally dropping the dead calf. This has been one of the most protracted displays of marine mammal grieving.

Among scientists, however, there remains a prejudice against the idea that animals feel “real” grief or respond in complex ways to death. Following reports of the “grieving,” zoologist Jules Howard, for example, wrote, “If you believe J35 was displaying evidence of mourning or grief, you are making a case that rests on faith, not on scientific endeavor.”

As a bioethicist, I’ve been studying the interplay between science and ethics for more than two decades. A growing body of scientific evidence supports the idea that nonhuman animals are aware of death, can experience grief and will sometimes mourn for or ritualize their dead… The case of Tahlequah shows that humans have a great deal to learn about other animals. The question is not “Do animals grieve?” but “How do animals grieve?”‘ SOURCE…

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