The need to protect those that are not capable of doing so themselves is a feeling we humans are quite familiar with; maternal instinct or empathy perhaps. This feeling or need is certainly shared with other animals, including whales. Events from nature have certainly taught us few things about that.

Image of a bottlenose dolphin with a malformed spine socializing with a group of sperm whales. Photo Credit: Alexander D.M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals

Image of a bottlenose dolphin with a malformed spine socializing with a group of sperm whales. Photo Credit: Alexander D.M. Wilson/Aquatic Mammals

A group of female sperm whales, sighted off the Azores in the North-Atlantic Ocean, had accepted into their group an adult male bottlenose dolphin which had a rare spinal malformation.  The disabled dolphin couldn’t keep up with his kin but the slower swimming group of sperm whales accepted him into their group. The huge sperm whales treated the dolphin as another sperm whale member, both nuzzling him and accepting his attempts for physical contact.

Image showing mother right whale, her calf and another adopted calf (order of calves is not known) is courtesy of Mogens Trolle at the Dyer Island Whale and Dolphin Project and is protected by copyright laws

Image showing mother right whale, her calf and another adopted calf (order of calves is not known) is courtesy of Mogens Trolle at the Dyer Island Whale and Dolphin Project and is protected by copyright laws

A female right whale mother sighted off the waters of South Africa adopted an orphan right whale calf though she was already caring for her own calf. This is a major risk for her since mothering a single calf is a huge task for a lone baleen whale mother and demands considerable energy. The mother was in a good body condition and seemingly managed to rare the two suckling calves which quickly bonded and played together as seen by other mammal siblings.

Pass on our genes and ensure the survival of the next generation is what live is fundamentally about. Thankfully, there is a bit more to life than only that! 

Edda Elísabet Magnúsdóttir

Marine biologist and a whale specialist at the University of Iceland

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