Whales too 'can feel and suffer' like humans

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London, June 21 (ANI): Whales also demonstrate human-like characteristics of self-awareness, suffering and a social culture along with high mental abilities, according to marine biologists.

The findings, put forth at a recent conference, challenge the notion that cetaceans, an order grouping more than 80 whales, dolphins and porpoises, are simply an animal commodity to be harvested from the sea.

"We now know from field studies that a lot of the large whales exhibit some of the most complex behaviour in the animal kingdom," the Telegraph quoted Lori Marino, a neurobiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, as saying.

Tem years back, Marino conducted an experiment with bottlenose dolphins in which she placed a small mark on their body and had the mammals look at themselves in a mirror.

By the way the dolphins reacted to the image and then looked at the spot, it was clear that they had a sense of self-identity, she found.

For Georges Chapouthier, a neurobiologist and director of the Emotion Centre at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, self-awareness means that dolphin and whales, along with some higher primates, can experience not just pain but also suffering.

Unlike nociception - a basic nerve response to harmful stimuli found in all animals - or lower-order pain, "suffering supposes a certain level of cognitive functioning," he said.

"It is difficult to define what that level is, but there's a lot of data now to suggest some higher mammals have it, including great apes, dolphins and, most likely, whales," he added.

As for intelligence, cetaceans are second only to humans in brain size, once body weight is taken into account.

They also possess cerebral areas, which specialise in cognition and emotional processing.

In fact, it is also likely that this evolution was partly driven by social interaction, according to several peer-reviewed studies.

Some scientists suggest this interaction can best described as culture, a notion usually reserved for homo sapiens.

"Evidence is growing that for at least some cetacean species, culture is both sophisticated and important," said Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.

The findings were presented at the International Whaling Commission (IWC), meeting in Agadir, Morocco. (ANI)

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