Sometimes, scientists remind me of mid-20th century behaviorists trying to explain human behavior.
It is much cleaner to isolate the motivation and equate it with something more animalistic like "it is instinctually initiating a preemptive attack on a predator and the seal was just a lucky but coincidental bystander".
Not really, it boils down to harm prevention.
I believe that, as humans, we greatly overestimate our own reliance or abstract ideas.
If we notice someone is harming another, and we intervene, we simply act.
The explanation for our behaviour (someone was being mean) comes later as post-hoc rationalisation.
Ironically, we then further rationalise and extrapolate from this incorrect idea that human behaviour comes from a fount of abstract values and ideas, and use it to devalue animals and their behaviour (assuming they have no complex cognition, and so must be dumb).
I don't think stopping aggressive acts in one's vicinity requires more reasoning ability than plotting to long term ruin the outlooks for other specific species X, species Y is cute or some thoughts about the moral act of hunting. Most animals have some experience with others acting aggressively and would like that reduced. We don't think about who is involved either when we see a fight break out between humans or animals.
I just happened to come across a magpie that was fighting a mouse outdoors today, and the mouse got pinned in a hole in a tree where the magpie kept pecking. I don't know why but I walked over so that the magpie went up in a nearby tree and the mouse ran away. That same magpie then attacked some nearby other magpies before calming down.
Edit: it proved surprisingly easy to find: https://youtu.be/D35uQCtr4EY
> Not really, it boils down to harm prevention.
Ask the fish whom that seal will subsequently eat how much harm is being prevented.
The grandparent pointed out that the concept of 'being mean' can't easily be applied to animals. The parent asserted without argument (or even definition) that it comes down to 'harm reduction', and went on to pontificate about humans overestimating their exceptionalism. So are the humpback whales harming the orcas by depriving them of a food source? Are the orcas harming the seal by eating him? Are the humpback whales harming the smaller fish who the seal will eat?
The complex cognition of 'being mean' might apply to an animal, or it might not. I'm not arguing that.
What I was trying to argue, was that complex cognitions aren't required for complex looking behaviour.
In this case a maternal behaviour that already exists in the whale, to protect it's offspring, seems to have been transferred to a seal.
I see no need for complex concepts or moral calculi to explain the whale's behaviour.
You are of course correct that it fails at reducing harm down the line, but that's what makes it tragic, and interesting.
I gather we call them "killer whales" because of a mistranslation of "whale killers".
I thought this was a stupid assumption so I set out to prove you wrong. I was wrong . I could use practice humbly admitting that more often. Wiktionary, for what it's worth:
Calque or mistranslation of Spanish asesina-ballenas (whale killer), referring to their tendency to hunt whales.
If it is then whales likely know more about it than us. Our brain structure is a subset of theirs and their extra parts are devoted to emotional processing.
Is it so hard to believe humpback whales are smart enough to know killer whales kill humpback babies? The humpback whales might well understand that if killer whales eat the less, they reproduce less, which will result in less humpback whales dying?
It sends me back to believing there is some sort of instinct triggered by the stimulus of killer whale attack.
Historically, they did. One famous example is the Essex, which was sunk in 1820 by the spontaneous attack of an unusually large male sperm whale soon after pursuing a pod of whales.
The difference today is that it's effectively impossible for a whale to put a hole in a steel-hulled ship.
Even with whales smarter than humans, how exactly are they supposed to resist... beyond communicating about where the hunting ships are, which they may well be doing.
Not exactly a fair fight, or proof that they aren't smart.
The variety employed in the last 100 years, you're right there's nothing they can do.
edit Specifically La Noche Triste. It was only after small pox killed about 40% of the population leaving most of the remainder to deal with disease caused sever disfigurement, disability, senility and starvation that the spanish really began to gain the upper hand.
Seriously, outside of efforts by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, and the way-too-late Ghost Dance movement, intertribal unity efforts weren't really there. They won many, many battles against Europeans, but could not strategize to win a long war. Thus, disorganized and sporadic resistance.
Sure, disease made the conquest possible. And it's not a values judgement. It's just the old tale, divide and conquer.
It does rather sound like a value judgement when you bring it up the way you have.
Well sure, if everyone knew about it it wouldn't be that successful now would it? Nothing to see here. No whales. Move along please.
You'd defend pretty much any human against an animal which was attacking them. You'd defend your country against other humans. You'd defend your family against others from your town. All of these are variations of "you're more likely to intervene in a conflict in favour of the side with a greater chance of being more closely related to you."
It's selfish genes all the way down.
(But from the point of view of the whale, the motivation is probably that the whales think orcas are mean and seals are OK. The genetic stuff just explains why whales are cool with seals but not orcas.)
Mine go the opposite way: I assume that when I see a dog or a cat or a rat or a ferret or a pig (all with brain and body structure completely analogous to my own) show an emotion or performing an act I can immediately relate to, their internal state is fairly much as my own would be in similar circumstances.
Claiming myself and my kin to be qualitatively entirely different from every other living species, now that is an assumption I wouldn't be comfortable to make.
Evolution doesn't do logical analysis.
I think there is also this trap that we want theories to be logically/mathematically complete without external side effects. If you're looking for that you want a neat tidy theory that explains why a humpback whale would save a seals bacon.
Evolution though doesn't care about that either.
And then there is a bias Westerners have towards zero sum analysis. (I think this is a legacy of the Victorian and Gilded Age) Reality is for an adult humpback whale messing with a killer whale costs him likely nothing.
If something has no cost evolution doesn't operate off it.
So you're just left with humpback whales like protecting their young, or anything else really. Especially from killer whales in particular.
Sure, but it rewards and institutionalizes behavior that benefits the genes of the individuals.
By having "harm prevention in peer group" instinct misapplied to members of other species?
Mid 20th century behaviorism casts a really long dark shadow into our times.
Although I think the instinctive reason is similarly obvious - for a creature with limited attention the safest environment is a calm one with nothing moving or acting (it is easy to process mentally). It makes a lot of sense for a large creature to intervene and break up other animals fighting so they can go back to scanning the environment for other threats without distraction.
Seems quite plausible they understand the relationship between feeding, reproduction, and population growth. They are clearly aware that killer whales feed on baby humpback whales. Doesn't seem a stretch that humpbacks would do whatever they can to prevent killer whales from feeding.
Starving them with non-humpback, they might try ...
selfish conclusion should be not saving.
That is why this silly logic is just a non-answer.
It is also why I feel commercial whaling (or in Japan's case "scientific research") is such a horrific thing to do.
My point is, it's not wrong to apply different standards for different animals. GP says they feel whaling is wrong because they relate more to whales than they do with cows or pigs. If GP sees news articles on how cows are actively saving other helpless animals from getting hunted, maybe they'll start applying similar standards to cows too. You may find this illogical and annoying, but bringing up cows and pigs in this way is not constructive in my opinion.
That's like saying: I believe Mr. Pittman, who is otherwise capable of complex behavior, did not consider the meaning of his words before uttering them. What he said was simply an inadvertent response to being asked a question.
You wouldn't even say that about a dog following orders.
I would differentiate being able to characterize the behavior from being able to 'understand' the behavior. If for the sake of argument, we assume orcas and humpback whales have higher brain functions around the level of humans, I would argue it's still impossible for us to understand the humpbacks motivation because his mind is completely alien to ours.
The ROI of preemptively attacking a predator while the dolphins are busy/tired from hunting while also taking food away from them in the process isn't a giant mystery.
The chances of it being Occam's Razor competition being species is just as likely as it crossing some higher abstract threshold for actually caring about some other 3rd party specie's individual survival because they're 'nice' or disgusted by the site (as others in this thread have implied).
Ultimately they don't seem to face much personal risk while doing this as the Killer Whales aren't big enough to take them on.
That said, do we know why we find baby non human mammals cute? I've always figured that it was a false positive based on features shared with human babies.
Maybe we don't taste good?
(Is this a setup for a joke?)
Scientists believe the attacks are just a case of mistaken identity and that is why the damage has been minimal. As soon as the Orca realized that it was not a seal or something else they like to eat, they backed off.
Killer whale species that eat fish are smaller and either ignore people or will shown curiosity about people. They spy, play, snoop or even steal fish from people. They live in the coast.
Killer whale species that eat mammals are bigger, they hunt dolphins, seals, sea lions and fin whales. They can attack, and most probably they will attack people if they have the slighest opportunity. They gladly hunt polar bears that are bigger than any human and have much stronger fangs and claws
They are pelagic or live in arctic regions so if you fall to the water you are dead yet in any case.