Humpbacks Protect & Save Other Species

If you think humans are the only mammals who care about the welfare of other species than think again. Earth's animal kingdom is truly remarkable. Stories abound of animals going out of their way to save, or care for others:

Bottlenose dolphins saved a girl from drowning off the coast of California in 2014, and a hippo safely guided a wildebeest calf, followed by a zebra foul back to land after both were swept away from their herds back in Tanzania in 2010.

Most of the tales of animal heroics throughout history are isolated incidents, but when it comes to humpback whales, it seems their concern for other species could be hardwired into their genes.

Humpback Whales — the Saviours of the Sea

Scientists are starting to notice a remarkable pattern in global humpback whale behaviour, these ocean behemoths are going out of their way to protect and save other marine species, prompting experts to investigate whether this altruistic feature is truly inherent to humpback whale behaviour.

The respected journal of Marine Mammal Science published in July 2016 has recorded a whopping 115 documented interactions between humpbacks and orcas between 1951 and 2012.

In 89% of these interactions, experts concluded the humpbacks engaged with the orcas specifically to disrupt their hunts.

Why do Humpbacks save Other Species?

The jury is still out on what this heroic behaviour stems from and whether it's intentional, or inadvertent altruism spurred on ultimately by self-interest.

Some experts speculate humpbacks save other species from ocean hunters like orcas as a warning not to mess with their own humpback calves, as whales are most vulnerable when they're young. Others point to the possibility this desire to help different species is an extension of their drive to safeguard their own babies, and still more experts ponder whether it's all simply to do with exacting revenge.

Either way, this behaviour points to a complicated and intense emotional life and even greater social cohesion among humpbacks than previously thought, unprecedented in the animal world, outside of primates.

Our current understanding of these remarkable marine giants is still only nudging the tip of the iceberg. With scientists busily doing research into the 'why', hopefully over the coming years we will come to understand the significance of this seemingly utterly selfless humpback behaviour.

List of Whale Rescues

Humpbacks have been observed saving all manner of marine life over the years, often putting their own well-being at risk to help:

  • California sea lions
  • Ocean sunfish
  • Harbor seals
  • Gray whales

Kerry Lopez

Captain of the Eye Spy
21 September 2016