religious elephants

On land, religious-type behaviours, are seen in elephants far more than other non-humans. They certainly try to cover the dead, show reverence for the bones of their long departed relatives, and show charity to the sick and permanently disabled. I don’t know why these traits are more prominent in elephants than the great apes, but that’s not to say I have no ideas on it.

Certain ways of hunting or foraging demand greater cooperation than others, and some lifestyles rely heavily on reciprocal altruism for individual maintenance and survival. In that regard some animals have greater needs than others. In the case of sperm whales, I am hard pressed to put it better than the following quote.

“Sperm whales have the most powerful sonar in the natural world. It is very directional and extremely powerful. To use the sonar effectively, you not only need to make a click, you need to hear it. Any ear damage would be very dangerous; as some people have said, a deaf whale is a dead whale. Whales have got to look after their ears. So it seems highly likely that if a sperm whale’s sonar system were directed at another whale’s ears, it would be very dangerous for the receiver.

Imagine a group of 20-30 sperm whales feeding at depth, each making these dangerous clicks once a second. They are all in the same area so they need to be really careful. To me it is like having a bunch of hunters with machine guns out in the forest, they are firing away pretty continuously and they have got to have clear rules if they are all going to come out of the forest alive. So I think there must be some conventions they abide by about how you use these sonar systems. This, by some definitions at least, is morality.”

Hal Whitehead – interview with The Guardian

So we have particularly good reason to believe that sperm whales have such behaviours also.