Humpback Whales Defend Gray Whale

Humpback whale lunge feeding. Photo courtesy of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Plymouth, MA.

A recent event provides more insight into the cognitive and interpretive capabilities of whales. This story by Candace Calloway Whiting in Digital Journal is an engaging account of humpback whales coming to the rescue of a mother and calf gray whale pair under attack from a pod of transient orcas. Unfortunately the efforts failed, perhaps because the majority of the humpbacks were not able to arrive in time to drive off the orcas. (The orcas’ well-planned, persistent attack could easily be subject of another article about cetacean intelligence.) Yet, the fact that these animals sensed the distress of another species, communicated this concern to others of their own group and then expended a considerable amount of energy to assist that other species, is remarkable.

The often subjective debate about cetacean intelligence will continue apace until we learn to speak Whalish. Until then, we will rely upon the many dedicated researchers and behaviorists who spend their hours deciphering the communication and interactions amongst these marine mammals.

For those of you living near the Museum, we invite you to take a look at the new “What’s Going on in That Head of Yours?” exhibit. Here we examine the similarities and differences between the heads of odontocetes and mysticetes, since this is where many of the differences exist. As part of the exhibit we have put the brain of a Risso’s dolphin on display. The commentary on intelligence was prepared by NBWM docent and retired brain surgeon, Dr. William Renehan.

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