Watch: Do Whales and Dolphins Teach Tolerance?

January 5, 2016 Laura Bridgeman

The notion that whales and dolphins teach tolerance could hold an important lesson for our own species. 

The video below depicts humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins swimming together with their young in tow. Despite being radically different in many ways, these two species have been observed playing together before. This intriguing scene is at once beautiful, instructive, and challenging to our westernized conceptions of who these beings are.

The video defies concrete scientific explanations as it raises more questions than it answers. Why these two adults would bring their youngsters around one another? The scientifically-minded among us might calculate this as being a risky move: the dolphins could be trampled by the vastly larger humpbacks (although we know they are extremely gentle giants). There is also the risk of spreading pathogens, with the young being particularly susceptible to disease thanks to their still-developing immune systems. And what social value could relating to another species possibly hold?

It could be that these parents are instilling in their young a sort of tolerance, and perhaps even an affinity, towards other species. If this is the case, it would form an important lesson for our human societies. All too often, our children are taught the opposite of tolerance and grow up in societies rife with systemic racism and oppression.

We might gain more insight into this scene by imagining the circumstances under which it arose. At what moment did the dolphin decide to join the whale, or vice versa? Was one calling to the other, inviting her out for a little afternoon cruise around a favorite seamount? Have the adults been comrades for some time, did they visit one another throughout their pregnancies?

We may never know the answers to any of these questions. But what videos like these do reveal is just how little we understand about life in the ocean. This peaceful scene can serve as a reminder to see how we can be more peaceful and tolerant, for the benefit our kind and the more-than-human world.