Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior

Living Edition
| Editors: Jennifer Vonk, Todd Shackelford

Cetacean Behavior Toward the Dead and Dying

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_2023-1

Evolutionary Origin of Grieving Among Mammals

Behavioral patterns and psychological dispositions toward the dead – including grieving, mourning, and bereavement – have been studied thoroughly among humans, but similar behaviors are poorly understood when performed by nonhuman mammals. The shared roots of grieving among humans and other animals were recognized early by Charles Darwin (1872) and the evolutionary meaning and significance of grieving were later elaborated in the work of authors such as John Archer, John Bowlby, and Colin M. Parkes. Their insightful writings explain that grief is ultimately a reaction to a deficit, arising as a by-product of the broadly similar reaction to separation. In other words, grieving is the cost of commitment (Parkes 1972), the downside of attachment and love (Archer 1999), and its emotional responses have evolved from the basic need of maintaining proximity with a partner or offspring. The maladaptive aspects of grieving have been seen as a...


Cetacean Behavior Dead Calf Dead Infant Globicephala Terrestrial Mammals 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Archer, J. (1999). The nature of grief: The evolution and psychology of reactions to loss. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baird, R. W. (2016). The lives of Hawai‘i’s dolphins and whales: Natural history and conservation. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bearzi, G., & Reggente, M. A. L. (2017). Epimeletic behavior. In B. Würsig, J. G. M. Thewissen & K. Kovacs (Eds.), Encyclopedia of marine mammals (3rd ed., pp. 369–370). Amsterdam and San Diego: Elsevier/Academic Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bercovitch, F. B. (2013). Giraffe cow reaction to the death of her newborn calf. African Journal of Ecology, 51, 376–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biro, D., Humle, T., Koops, K., Sousa, C., Hayashi, M., & Matsuzawa, T. (2010). Chimpanzee mothers at Bossou, Guinea carry the mummified remains of their dead infants. Current Biology, 20, R351–R352.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Caldwell, M. C., & Caldwell, D. K. (1966). Epimeletic (care-giving) behavior in Cetacea. In K. S. Norris (Ed.), Whales, porpoises and dolphins (pp. 755–789). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  7. Clutton-Brock, T. (2009). Cooperation between non-kin in animal societies. Nature, 462, 51–57.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Cozzi, B., Huggenberger, S., & Oelschläger, H. A. (2017). Anatomy of dolphins: Insights into body structure and function. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  9. Darwin, C. (1872). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (Edition 1965).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dudzinski, K. M., Sakai, M., Masaki, K., Kogi, K., Hishii, T., & Kurimoto, M. (2003). Behavioral observations of bottlenose dolphins towards two dead conspecifics. Aquatic Mammals, 29, 108–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fashing, P. J., Nguyen, N., Barry, T. S., Barret Goodale, C., Burke, R. J., Jones, S. C. Z., Kerby, J. T., Lee, L. M., Nurmi, N. O., & Venkataraman, V. V. (2011). Death among geladas (Theropithecus gelada): A broader perspective on mummified infants and primate thanatology. American Journal of Primatology, 73, 405–409.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Harris, H. S., Oates, S. C., Staedler, M. M., Tinker, M. T., Jessup, D. A., Harvey, J. T., & Miller, M. A. (2010). Lesions and behavior associated with forced copulation of juvenile Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) by southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). Aquatic Mammals, 36, 331–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hof, P. R., Glezer, I. I., Condé, F., Flagg, R. A., Rubin, M. B., Nimchinsky, E. A., & Vogt Weisenhorn, D. M. (1999). Cellular distribution of the calcium-binding proteins parvalbumin, calbindin, and calretinin in the neocortex of mammals: Phylogenetic and developmental patterns. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 16, 77–116.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Kilborn, S. S. (1994). Object carrying in a captive beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) as a possible surrogate behavior. Marine Mammal Science, 10, 496–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. King, B. (2013). How animals grieve. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Krasnova, V. V., Chernetsky, A. D., Zheludkova, A. I., & Bel’kovich, V. M. (2014). Parental behavior of the beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) in natural environment. Biology Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 41, 349–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mann, J., & Barnett, H. (1999). Lethal tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvieri) attack on bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops sp.) calf: Defense and reactions by the mother. Marine Mammal Science, 15, 568–575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Morgane, P., McFarland, W. L., & Jacobs, M. S. (1982). The limbic lobe of the dolphin brain: A quantitative cytoarchitectonic study. Journal für Hirnforschung, 23, 465–552.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Nakamichi, M., Koyama, N., & Jolly, A. (1996). Maternal responses to dead and dying infants in wild troops of ring-tailed lemurs at the Berenty Reserve, Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology, 17, 505–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Norris, K. S., & Prescott, J. H. (1961). Observations of Pacific cetaceans of California and Mexican waters. University of California Publications in Zoology, 63, 291–402.Google Scholar
  21. Pack, A. A., Salden, D. R., Ferrari, M. J., Glockner-Ferrari, D. A., Herman, L. M., Stubbs, H. A., & Straley, J. M. (1998). Male humpback whale dies in competitive group. Marine Mammal Science, 14, 861–873.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Parkes, C. M. (1972). Bereavement: Studies of grief in adult life. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  23. Pitman, R. L., Deecke, V. B., Gabriele, C. M., Srinivasan, M., Black, N., Denkinger, J., Durban, J. W., Mathews, E. A., Matkin, D. R., Neilson, J. L., Schulman-Janiger, A., Shearwater, D., Stap, P., & Ternullo, R. (2017). Humpback whales interfering when mammal-eating killer whales attack other species: Mobbing behavior and interspecific altruism? Marine Mammal Science, 33, 7–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Quintana-Rizzo, E., & Wells, R. S. (2016). Behavior of an adult female bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) toward an unrelated dead calf. Aquatic Mammals, 42, 198–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Reggente, M. A., Alves, F., Nicolau, C., Freitas, L., Cagnazzi, D., Baird, R. W., & Galli, P. (2016). Nurturant behavior toward dead conspecifics in free-ranging mammals: New records for odontocetes and a general review. Journal of Mammalogy, 97, 1428–1434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rolls, E. T. (2011). The emotional systems. In J. K. Mai & G. Paxinos (Eds.), The human nervous system (3rd ed., pp. 1328–1350). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  27. Shane, S. H. (1994). Pilot whales carrying dead sea lions. Mammalia, 58, 494–498.Google Scholar
  28. Smith, T. G., & Sleno, G. A. (1986). Do white whales, Delphinapterus leucas, carry surrogates in response to early loss of their young? Canadian Journal of Zoology, 64, 1581–1582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. de Waal, F. B. M., & Preston, S. D. (2017). Mammalian empathy: Behavioural manifestations and neural basis. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18, 498–509.Google Scholar
  30. Warren, Y., & Williamson, E. A. (2004). Transport of dead infant mountain gorillas by mothers and unrelated females. Zoo Biology, 23, 375–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dolphin Biology and ConservationCordenonsItaly
  2. 2.Texas A&M University at GalvestonGalvestonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Comparative Biomedicine and Food ScienceUniversity of PadovaLegnaroItaly

Section editors and affiliations

  • Lauren Highfill
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEckerd CollegeSt. PetersburgUSA