Humpback whales defend other species from killer whales

This seems a remarkable story.

Or maybe they just don’t like a predator that can and does prey on humpback calves hunting in their vicinity unmolested. Putting the fear of whale in them and maybe contributing to malnourished Orcas aren’t bad strategies when the risk to an adult humpback is minimal.

Has anyone considered the possibility that there’s no altruism involved and humpbacks might just like being dicks to killer whales?

True. Altruism and really liking being a dick are both conscious actions by an intelligent mind.

It is very interesting, but it seems like a mistake to call this evidence of altruism or deep emotional lives. If you take a hard-wired behavior to protect their calves, and then tweak that behavior to save other smaller animals… By itself, it’s no more proof of intelligence or emotion than a dog peeing on a fire hydrant.

Speciesist! :wink: Have you ever seen a dog pee on a fire hydrant previously peed on by a dog he doesn’t like? He does it with an attitude of indignation and spite he doesn’t use when peeing on just any upright object.

From the link: "Marine ecologist Robert Pitman observed a particularly dramatic example of this behavior back in 2009, while observing a pod of killer whales hunting a Weddell seal trapped on an ice floe off Antarctica. The orcas were able to successfully knock the seal off the ice, and just as they were closing in for the kill, a magnificent humpback whale suddenly rose up out of the water beneath the seal.

“This was no mere accident. In order to better protect the seal, the whale placed it safely on its upturned belly to keep it out of the water. As the seal slipped down the whale’s side, the humpback appeared to use its flippers to carefully help the seal back aboard. Finally, when the coast was clear, the seal was able to safely swim off to another, more secure ice floe.”

Yes, it used the same behavior it would use to lift a newborn calf to the surface for its first breath–it is the physical tool it had available. But do not fall into that antique belief system that animals are simply bundles of instincts and it was only that moment when God touched Adam’s finger that there was a spark of intelligence in an animal. We ain’t all that special. There is an obvious continuum from dumbest to smartest animal, and whales are on our end of it.

Oh, I don’t think people are all that special. In fact, I think we ascribe too much of our own behaviors to intelligence. Do 90% of people get married and have children thanks to their higher intelligence? I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure I have a beautifully landscaped backyard with a koi pond. Is that maybe just because my ancestors were more likely to survive if they desired to settle down, grow crops and raise fish? I can rationalize my own behavior all I like, but if I look down the street, there’s ten thousand other primates doing the exact same thing. I’m sure we all arrived at these decisions through independent sentient thought, not anything like the behaviors that help wasps pick nest sites or that make sure rats have lots of babies. :slight_smile:

Dolphins attack sharks and under the right circumstances might appear to be altruistically protecting other species, but then they might rip that other species to pieces themselves. Maybe the Humpbacks are altruistic but we may just be observing innate behavior that protects their own kind.