Humpback Whales

Humpback Vigilantes

Humpback Vigilantes

The Altruistic Motivation of Whales

Interspecies adoption has forever fascinated me. For example, why would a leopard adopt an orphaned baby monkey or a lioness a small antelope? It’s easy for us to accept that our family dog has “feelings” yet science looks at any form of anthropomorphic thinking as misdirected scientific enquiry. There have been more than 100 reported cases of Humpback whales interfering with Orca hunting non-Humpback species including sunfish, porpoise, seals, sea lions and other marine mammals. It appears we have some Humpback heroes on the horizon!

In evolutionary biology, when an organism’s behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself, it is said to behave altruistically. Why would Humpback whales risk personal injury and expend so much energy to protect entirely different species?  This has been the center of marine ecologist Robert Pitman’s research at NOAA Fisheries. Pitman has analyzed 115 interactions between Humpbacks and Orca. An extraordinary incident occurred near the Antarctic peninsula where Pitman observed a Humpback offer protection to a Weddell seal by rolling onto it’s back and holding the seal on it’s belly above the waters surface and out of reach of a pod of marauding killer whales...