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What Humpback Whales Can Teach Humans About Compassion

Elin Kelsey: ‘Ascribing Buddhist-like qualities to humpbacks seems particularly apt in light of recent revelations about how these large baleen whales use their superpowers for good. Humpbacks, it turns out, deliberately interfere with attacking killer whales to help others in distress. They don’t just defend their own babies or close relatives. They intervene on behalf of other species — a gray whale calf with its mother, a seal hauled out on an ice floe, even an ocean sunfish. Humpbacks act to improve the welfare of others; the classic definition of altruism… In a 2016 article in Marine Mammal Science, Robert Pitman and his coauthors describe this behavior and confirm that such acts of do-gooding are widespread. They have been occurring for a long time and have been seen in locations all over the world. “Now that people know what to look for, especially people out on whale watch boats, they see it fairly regularly,” Pitman says. “So now, even for the people who didn’t believe, which initially included some of the coauthors on the paper, I think everybody now understands that this is going on”…

What’s powerful about these studies, according to Felix Warneken, head of Harvard University’s Social Cognitive Development Group… is that they challenge the strongly held belief that we need to be taught to be altruistic through social norms. His findings indicate otherwise… Compassion, it turns out, is innate’… Fred Sharpe, a humpback whale researcher with the Alaska Whale Foundation, says it’s important to step back and appreciate the wonder of the act itself. “It’s easy to get lost in the nuance and to come up with high standards of how you interpret this behavior,” he says. “But the fact is you have seals on the bellies of humpbacks. You know, it’s just a really cool phenomenon and that’s reason enough”.’ SOURCE…

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