"Watching Whales Watching Us"

"The November 2008 Supreme Court debate on whether to protect whales from Navy sonar "can be viewed as a turning point in our fraught relationship with whales -- a moment when new insights into the behavior of our long-inscrutable, seabound mammalian counterparts began forcing us to reconsider and renegotiate what once seemed to be a distinct boundary between our world and theirs. Scientists have now documented behaviors like tool use and cooperative hunting strategies among whales. Orcas, or killer whales, have been found to mourn their own dead. Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates. Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures.

Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again."

Charles Siebert reports in the New York Times Magazine July 8, 2009.

Monday, July 13, 2009