Do dolphins feel sadness?
Many animals, like cattle, do not appear to experience emotions such as sadness when another animal dies.
Dolphins, like humans, have big brains with a well-developed 'amygdala', where emotional reactions to events and memories are processed. Dolphin brains make some scientists wonder whether dolphins experience more complex emotions.
Some scientists argue that we cannot test whether animals like dolphins feel complex emotions, such as grief or embarrassment. They say we should not asssume that dolphins are just like humans in the way they experience emotions.
Other scientists disagree and say that there is more and more evidence to say that higher mammals, like dolphins and also elephants (see video), do experience complex emotions such as grief.
Scientist Denise Herzig describes a dolphin of the coast of the Bahamas called Mugsy. Sadly, Mugsy lost her calf. Denise and her team observed Mugsy swimming slowly and despondently and showing no interest in friends or social activities for some months following the death of her youngster.
Scientist Kathleen Dudzinski was surveying Indo Pacific bottlenose dolphins around the Japanese island of Mikura. During the survey, she came upon a group of dolphins that were spending a lot of time below the surface.
Entering the water, Kathleen saw the dead body of a dolphin resting on the sea floor. For more than two hours, almost twenty dolphins swan repeatedly round the dead dolphin. It seemed as though the dolphins were attending a funeral. Later, Kathleen learned that the dolphin had drowned.
The pain of a mother who lost her calf is easy to relate to. A larger group swimming round and round a drowned dolphin suggests a more sophisticated response to the loss of a friend.
Scientific journal Acta Ethologica reports dolphins helping to nurture and support their ill and dying, and and that they may mourn their losses. Researchers from the University of Porto tell of the operator of a tour boat witnessing a group of dolphins gently surrounding and trying to support a dying dolphin, and keeping it at the surface so that it could breathe, and staying with it for a number of hours before finally going on their way, leaving their dead behind. In another incident, a dying calf being supported by another adult dolphin, probably its mother. (see inquisitr) This behaviour may explain dolphins helping humans.
Elephants are another species that seems to mourn their dead and so emotions such as sadness and mourning may not be unique to humans after all (see video).