Keri Cronin

Witnessing Compassion

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A number of people have sent me the link to this video of an injured dolphin being supported by a number of other dolphins. She was struggling to swim on her own so a number of other dolphins carried her on their backs, ensuring that she didn’t drown. Eventually she stopped breathing and died, but even after her death a few dolphins continued to stay with her body for several minutes.

While of course we can never know the precise reasons and motivations behind the actions of these dolphins on this particular day, it seems clear that they were working together to do what they could to help their injured friend. Researchers like Marc Bekoff have repeatedly demonstrated that when we witness a scene like this it is very likely that we are witnessing compassionate, caring behaviour among nonhuman animals. There continue to be skeptics, people who believe that these kinds of characteristics only exist in human societies, but, thankfully it seems that these skeptics are fewer in number these days.

I think that visual culture has an important role to play in this dynamic. While we need to be careful to not equate video footage or photographs with “the truth” (in its most simplistic sense), there is tremendous power in giving large numbers of people the opportunity to “bear witness” to something like the scene unfolding in this video.

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