You are human, and you are not special.
You are merely an epithelial layer encasing a randomly intricate tangle of organs which perpetuates an existence balanced precariously between life and death.
Ok. So you are pretty special. But let us not conveniently write off the millions of other organ casings traipsing the Gobi, paddling the Atlantic and riding the upwards drafts of the South Pacific Gyre.
Call it anthropomorphism, call it personification, call it insanity if that tickles your testes—but humans and every other “animal” on this planet are all living, breathing, sentient beings attempting to make sense of their own existences.
And that’s why I find it incredulous that the world was so shocked when a mother orca exhibited signs of grief at the death of her newborn calf.
J35 (affectionately “Tahlequah” to the scientists following her story) became an overnight viral sensation after news broke that the young matriarch had been carrying her deceased baby for upwards of 10 days postpartum.
The calf lasted merely 30 minutes in the salmon-ridden currents of the Pacific Northwest watershed off the coasts of Oregon and Washington before succumbing to gestational malnutrition.
Tahlequah is a member of one of three separate pods making their homes in the PNW watershed.
Her particular “J” pod has not had a successful birth since 2015. The culprit?
Merciless fishermen whose bulging nets suck the waters exponentially dry of its Chinook Salmon population (the Killer Whales’ chief food staple).
At the ripe and fertile age of 20, J35 is an instrumental contributor to the longevity of her pod, as she has years of reproductive viability ahead of her.
But the missing link—freaking food—could potentially be the demise of her rapidly dwindling species.
So, I would say that it’s not entirely inconceivable that the grieving mother would literally hold on to what she had left of her young.
Updates in J35’s heartbreaking story indicate that the matriarch finally released the calf after 17 grueling days of dragging and floating it through the water, but that’s not the focal point of this story, and that’s certainly not where it ends.
What really makes us different from our animal neighbors? Is it our despicable taste in president?
Or our drug tendencies?
Or our gluttonous sex habits?
Because if that’s what makes us so much more superior to the Killer Whale, I’d rather be wrapped in two tons of blubber.
We all have anatomical structures that have evolved divergently overtime in response to our changing environments, but we all started as amoebas swimming in a molten sea.
Is it really so hard to believe that we might be more similar to ‘wild animals’ than we’d like to believe?
I recently developed the prototype to a board-game for a humanities class that I took last spring.
The game was called “How Do You Feel?”, and it consisted of varying ethical scenarios that forced players to choose between the human and the animal.
One specific clip I chose stunned my classmates.
I played just a sound byte of a cat crying in the bathtub, and then a baby crying.
They sounded exactly the same.
In fact, 75% of my classmates mismatched the cry.
Anthropomorphism is the concept of employing “a human characteristic to assign human emotion and behavior to other living creatures.”
It’s a term broadly and vehemently rejected by most scientists and scholars.
Can you guess why?
It’s because we as humans are willing to concoct any form of an excuse (regardless of how outlandish it may be) to justify our destruction of rainforest habitats, and our oil drilling, and our hunting…and I could go on, but I won’t because I’d like to save my editors the money on all of that ink.
We can kill that snake in our tent because “there are thousands of snakes, I don’t want to get bitten.”
We can shoot that deer because “it’s just a deer, its taxidermied head would look nice on my mantle.”
Well, guess what?
There are billions of us. What makes us any more indispensable than a snake or a deer?
Just the fact that we’re human?
I may look different from a killer whale. I may not eat the same things, look or act the same way, and I certainly don’t live the same life—but that killer whale just lost her baby.
The mini-me she spent 17 months carrying in her womb, her little legacy.
She has the damn right to be sad.