Separate studies by experts such as American neurobiologist Dr. Lori Marino of Emory University, French neurobiologist Dr. Georges Chapouthier at Marie Curie University in Paris, and Dr. Hal Whitehead of Canada’s Dalhousie University have all affirmed the intelligence and sentient nature of whales.
Their findings suggest that whales are not only highly sensitive to situations of pain and suffering, but that they also experience other qualities previously thought to be exclusive to humans.
These include self-awareness and identity, complex communication, abstract thought, and a sophisticated matrilineal culture. Dr. Whitehead and colleagues observed that a whale communal song is learned by all males in an ocean and evolves over months and years.
In fact, whales’ brains contain cerebral areas specific for cognition and emotional processing – most likely evolved from social interaction.
This human-like quality of whales is also understood by Mr. Bryant Austin, a US photographer who has been entrusted by these immense beings to photograph them from as nearby as 6 feet. Mr. Austin recalled the first encounter that led to what is now his life’s work.
Bryant Austin – Founder and president, Marine Mammal Conservation Through the Arts, US photographer (M): I felt a gentle touch on my back, and I turned to look, and I was eye-to-eye with a 50-ton female humpback whale who was behind me. She’s bigger than a school bus, and she extended her 15 foot pectoral fin, which was like your arm, to reach out and touch me and let me know that she was behind me, that I ended up accidentally between her and her calf.
But she showed such great restraint not to bring me any kind of accidental or unintentional harm. And that’s when I was so struck, I was so close to a whale’s eye, and her expression in her eye was so calm and mindful. She was no longer a whale to me, it was a life changing moment.
VOICE: The photographic images of these whale individuals, who approach Mr. Austin on their own and gingerly reposition themselves as not so to accidentally hurt him with their sheer strength, are being used to raise awareness and concern about such destructive activities as whaling.
Bryant Austin (M): It just breaks my heart to think of a wild creature that’s so friendly, so inquisitive and so gentle to me, that my species is bringing so much suffering to them.
No future generations will have these opportunities and it’s really what we do right now that’s going to ensure that they will be here. Many may go extinct in this century for the first time in recorded human history if more isn’t done.
VOICE: We thank photographer Bryant Austin and the leading researchers for your further insights into the intelligence and sentient nature of these peaceful giants of the seas. May humanity swiftly awaken to respect all life forms and preserve the balance of our ecosphere.
Highlighting the importance of protecting lives to save the planet, Supreme Master Ching Hai has often reminded of animal species’ noble qualities and that they must not be harmed, as during an interview published in the December 16, 2009 edition of The Irish Dog Journal