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.