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  • I'd like to tell you today about an orca named Tahlequah.

  • Tahlequah is also known as J35 to scientists,

  • because she swims with the J Pod in the Salish Sea.

  • These are the waters off of British Columbia and Washington State.

  • Now, last year, in July 2018,

  • she was well along in her 17-month pregnancy,

  • and scientists were very excited

  • because no baby had survived in this pod for three long years.

  • Now, orcas are also known as killer whales.

  • They're profoundly social and profoundly intelligent beings.

  • And scientists are very interested in their behavior,

  • because in their social networks, they share habits, information

  • and even affection.

  • They create true cultures of the ocean.

  • But this pod has been in trouble.

  • The Chinook salmon that the orcas favor has been way down in the region,

  • and pollution has been up.

  • But on July 24th, Tahlequah gave birth to a daughter,

  • and scientists were so excited by this development.

  • But unfortunately, the same day -- in fact, shortly after birth --

  • the calf died.

  • Well, what happened next electrified animal lovers

  • across the world,

  • because Tahlequah refused to let her baby slip off into the water.

  • She kept it on her body and she swam with it.

  • If it did fall off, she would dive and rescue it,

  • and she battled stiff currents to do this.

  • Now, she kept this behavior up

  • for 17 days,

  • and during this time, she swam over 1,000 miles.

  • At that point, she let the little baby slip off into the water.

  • So today, Tahlequah swims on with the J Pod,

  • but her grief still moves me.

  • And I do believe that "grief" is the right word to use.

  • I believe that grief is the right word to use

  • for numerous animals who mourn the dead.

  • They may be friends or mates or relatives.

  • Because these visible cues, these behavioral cues,

  • tell us something about an animal's emotional state.

  • Now, for the last seven years,

  • I've been working to document examples of animal grief --

  • in birds, in mammals,

  • in domesticated animals and in wild animals --

  • and I believe in the reality of animal grief.

  • Now, I say it this way

  • because I need to acknowledge to you right up front

  • that not all scientists agree with me.

  • And part of the reason, I think,

  • is because of what I call the "a-word."

  • The a-word is anthropomorphism,

  • and historically, it's been a big deterrent

  • to recognizing animal emotions.

  • So, anthropomorphism is when we project onto other animals

  • our capacities or our emotions.

  • And we can all probably think of examples of this.

  • Let's say we have a friend who tells us,

  • "My cat understands everything I say."

  • Or, "My dog, he's so sweet.

  • he ran right across the yard this morning towards a squirrel,

  • and I know he just wants to play."

  • Well, maybe.

  • Or maybe not.

  • I'm skeptical about claims like those.

  • But animal grief is different,

  • because we're not trying to read an animal's mind.

  • We're looking at visible cues of behavior

  • and trying to interpret them with some meaning.

  • Now, it's true -- scientists often push back at me,

  • and they'll say,

  • "Ah, look, the animal might be stressed,

  • or maybe the animal's just confused

  • because his or her routine has been disrupted."

  • But I think that this overworry about anthropomorphism

  • misses a fundamental point.

  • And that is that animals can care very deeply for each other,

  • maybe they even love each other.

  • And when they do,

  • a survivor's heart can be pierced by a death.

  • Let's face it:

  • if we deny evolutionary continuity,

  • we are really missing out on embracing part of ourselves.

  • So yes, I believe in the reality of animal grief,

  • and I also think that if we recognize it,

  • we can make the world a better place for animals,

  • a kinder place for animals.

  • So let me tell you a little bit more about animal grief.

  • I'm going to start in Kenya.

  • You see here there's an elephant named Eleanor

  • who came one day with bruised legs,

  • and she collapsed.

  • You see on the left

  • that another female named Grace came to her right away

  • and, using her own trunk, propped her up,

  • tried to get her up on her feet.

  • And she did succeed,

  • but then Eleanor collapsed again.

  • At this point, Grace became visibly distressed,

  • and she prodded the body, and she vocalized.

  • Eleanor collapsed again,

  • and unfortunately, she did die.

  • What you see on the right is a female from another family named Maui,

  • who came after the death, and she stayed at the body.

  • She held a vigil there, and she even rocked in distress

  • over the body.

  • So the scientists watching the elephants

  • kept close observation on Eleanor's body

  • for seven days.

  • And during those seven days,

  • a parade of elephants came

  • from five different families.

  • Now, some were just curious,

  • but others carried out behaviors

  • that I really believe should be classified as grief.

  • So what does grief look like?

  • It can be rocking, as I said, in distress.

  • It can also be social withdrawal,

  • when an animal just takes himself or herself away from friends

  • and stays by themselves,

  • or a failure to eat or sleep properly,

  • sometimes a depressed posture or vocalization.

  • It can be very helpful for those of us studying this

  • to be able to compare the behavior of a survivor before death

  • and after death,

  • because that increases the rigor of our interpretation.

  • And I can explain this to you

  • by talking about two ducks named Harper and Kohl.

  • So we're into birds now.

  • So Harper and Kohl were raised at a foie gras factory,

  • and they were treated cruelly.

  • Foie gras does involve force-feeding of birds.

  • So this hurt their bodies, and their spirits were not in good shape, either.

  • But thankfully, they were rescued by a farm sanctuary in upstate New York.

  • And for four years, they stabilized, and they were fast friends.

  • They often took themselves to a small pond on the property.

  • Then, Kohl started to have really intractable pain in his legs,

  • and it was clear to the sanctuary that he had to be euthanized humanely,

  • and he was.

  • But then the sanctuary workers did a brilliant thing,

  • because they brought Harper to the body to see.

  • And at first, Harper prodded the body of his friend,

  • but then he laid himself over it,

  • and he stayed there for over an hour with his friend.

  • And in the weeks after,

  • he had a hard time.

  • He would go back to that same pond where he had been with Kohl,

  • and he didn't want any other friends.

  • And within two months, he died as well.

  • Now, I'm happy to say

  • that not all grieving animals have this sorrowful outcome.

  • Last summer, I flew to Boston to visit my adult daughter, Sarah.

  • I was with my husband Charlie.

  • I really needed a break from work.

  • But I succumbed, and I checked my work email.

  • You know how that is.

  • And there was a communication about a dejected donkey.

  • Now, as an anthropologist, this wasn't what I expected,

  • but there it was, and I'm glad I read it.

  • Because a donkey named Lena had gone to another farm sanctuary,

  • this one in Alberta, Canada,

  • as the only donkey there,

  • and had trouble making friends for that reason.

  • But she eventually did make friends with an older horse named Jake,

  • and for three years they were inseparable.

  • But the reason the email came was that Jake, at age 32, the horse,

  • had become gravely ill and had to be put down,

  • and this is what was going on.

  • This is Lena standing on Jake's grave.

  • She didn't want to come in at night. She didn't want to come in for food.

  • She didn't want to come in for water.

  • She pawed at the grave, she brayed in distress,

  • and there she stood.

  • So we talked and we brainstormed.

  • What do you do for an animal like this?

  • And we talked about the role of time,

  • of extra love and kindness from people

  • and of urging her to make a new friend.

  • And here's where her trajectory does diverge from that of Harper the duck,

  • because she did make a new friend,

  • and sanctuary workers wrote back and said it worked out well.

  • Now sometimes, scientists supplement observation

  • with hormonal analysis.

  • There's an example of a group of scientists in Botswana,

  • who took fecal material from baboons and compared two different groups.

  • The first group were females who had witnessed a predator attack

  • and lost someone in that attack,

  • and the second group were females who had witnessed an attack

  • but had not lost someone.

  • And the stress hormones were way up in that first group.

  • But here's the thing:

  • the scientists didn't just call them "stressed baboons,"

  • they called them "bereaved baboons,"

  • and in part, that's because of the observations that they made.

  • For example, this mother-daughter pair were very close,

  • and then the daughter was killed by a lion.

  • The mother removed herself from all her friends,

  • from her grooming networks, and just stayed by herself for weeks --

  • bereavement --

  • and she then slowly recovered.

  • So we have bereaved baboons.

  • Will science tell us someday about bereaved bees?

  • Will we hear about frogs who mourn?

  • I don't think so, and I think the reason is because animals really need

  • one-to-one, close relationships for that to happen.

  • I also know that circumstance matters, and personality matters.

  • I have documented cats and dogs who grieve,

  • our companion animals,

  • but I also interacted with a woman who was extremely bothered

  • because her dog wasn't grieving.

  • She said to me, "The first dog in the house has died.

  • The second animal does not seem concerned, the second dog.

  • What is wrong with him?"

  • (Laughter)

  • And as I listened to her,

  • I realized that this dog was now the only animal in the household,

  • and as far as he was concerned, that was a pretty good deal.

  • So circumstances matter.

  • Now, in any case, animals are not going to grieve

  • exactly like we do.

  • We have human creativity.

  • We paint our grief, dance our grief,

  • write our grief.

  • We also can grieve for people we've never met,

  • across space and time.

  • I felt this strongly when I went to Berlin

  • and I stood at the Holocaust Memorial.

  • Animals don't grieve exactly like we do,

  • but this doesn't mean that their grief isn't real.

  • It is real, and it's searing,

  • and we can see it if we choose.

  • Now, I've lost both my parents.

  • I lost a very dear friend at a young age from AIDS.

  • I believe most likely most of you here have lost someone.

  • And I have found it a genuine comfort,

  • a solace, to know that we aren't the only beings on this earth

  • who feel love and grief.

  • And I think this is important.

  • I also think we can take this a step further,

  • and we can realize that the reality of animal grief

  • can help us be better and do better for animals.

  • This is already happening with Tahlequah,

  • because the United States and Canada have renewed their talks with greater urgency

  • for how to help the orcas,

  • how to restore the Chinook salmon

  • and how to help with the water pollution.

  • We can also see that if grief is real,

  • there's tremendous plausibility to the notion

  • that animals feel a whole range