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Animal Blessings

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During the annual Blessing of the Animals at St. John the Divine Cathedral, the congregation might include any animal from Noah's ark. Why do these pet owners bring their furry, feathery and scaly companions to church? (Oh yeah, and view our slideshow of our day at the Cathedral).

Next. A whale rescue. A motley crew of divers and fishermen set out to free a whale, and are convinced they encountered a definitive moment of cross-species communication. Dr. Clive Wynne isn't so sure. To make his point, Dr. Wynne tells us about a study by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, who talks to producer Soren Wheeler about the science behind dog guilt.

Read more:

Clive Wynne, Do Animals Think?

Alexandra Horowitz, Inside a Dog

Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody
Credit: Photo by Kelly Carmody

Comments [46]

Susan Shoaff from Murphys, CA

as usual, my dog had to wait throughout your entire show to get his daily walk since i was so hooked. but i'm not sure about the dog-guilt portion of your broadcast, though, after watching this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9R-Wrpd8w8.
the whale story was phenomenal. reminds me of this amazing one:
https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=117359011804813

Jun. 14 2013 12:29 PM
andreabellinger@twcny.rr.com

I enjoy your show so much - look for stimulus money for a weekly program. But on this show a quibble. The whale story is wonderful - I listening as I write and show pause it. But the dog story???? Another scenario to the many dog owners telling their dogs "Bad dogs?" Your boss walks into a room and says to all SOMEONE HERE IS COMMITTING PLAGERISM WHO?! i would bet if you look at the 16 people in the room 1/2 hang their head. Not because they committed plagerism but because they were shouted at. Bogus experiment. The whale story may not be able to be replicated, but is incredible.

Sep. 06 2012 07:52 PM
Mark Wittow from Seattle

The National Geographic article and photographs of the leopard seal encounter described in the last segment of this show are from the Nov. 2006 issue and also available online here -- http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/11/leopard-seals/heacox-text

Feb. 06 2012 12:51 AM
Cirrelda Snider-Bryan from Albuquerque, NM

The guest psychologist showed good understanding of animals and shared his need to be objective - but I agree with other commenters that his analogy between the whale and the bear was off. He told a made-up story that a rescued bear ate the rescuer human. We do not know if a bear who was saved by a human would eat the human or not. In the case of the whale, the evidence is there - the whale was seemingly acknowledging each and every one of the rescuers.

Feb. 04 2012 05:04 PM
colinm from Sydney

Here's a programme about dog barks, pointing to research which demonstrates that even non-dog owners can accurately categorise different barks recorded when the dog was engaged in various activities ("let's play", "hi!", that kind of thing)
http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/3269852.htm

Here is the research http://familydogproject.elte.hu/research.html which suggests a degree of co-evolution between dogs and humans, in the process of domestication.

Now, a whale is not a dog, but a whale is also not a bear. The line Dr. Wynne takes isn't necessarily the only reasonable position.

Dec. 15 2011 11:49 PM
B from USA

Given the facts of the story, Clive Wynne’s arguments are unconvincing and anthropologically arrogant. His bear analogy is flawed, for a bear is not a whale, and thus their behaviors cannot be compared. Wynne asserts that making an argument that the whale was expressing thanks requires that we believe that the “world is full of human beings…that happen to have fur suits on ….” This is just plain wrong. Rather, we live in a world full of animals, of which we humans are a part, and we happen to have taken our fur suits off. Humans and the other animals have much more in common than Wynne, and many others, would like to believe. The fact that animals do not possess communication and expression in the same manner as humans does not foreclose the possibility that cross-species communication does not exist. This story presents a compelling case that the whale did express gratitude to these people.

Nov. 11 2011 04:54 PM
NC from Michigan

I see others have said what I am thinking ... that people can easily have scold-induced guilt or shame, so why not other animals? I am very surprised that was not thought of by the interviewers or the expert.

As for the whale, it seems obvious to me that she was making an intentional connection of some sort which could be taken as thanks, respect, etc. I don't see where a particular label matters. And, there was someone on the boat as well, wasn't there? Maybe the whale was smart enough to understand that.

Empathy, connection, and love are seen abound in the animal world ... amongst same species, different species, and with human species. To think humans are largely unique in this area is egotistical and careless.

Hope to hear more animal episodes in the near future!

Apr. 30 2011 09:33 PM
Drew from New York

Clive Wynne’s contributions to your program are concerning in two respects: (1) Mr. Wynne appears to be ignorant regarding research into human psychosomatic responses of guilt in the context of interrogation. These studies have found that, in humans, physical manifestations of guilt are highly similar to those related to fear of false accusation. If this is also true in dogs, it would support Jad’s supposition. (2) Belittling sarcasm, particularly within the context of a scientific conversation, is simply unprofessional.

Apr. 26 2011 02:21 PM
Amanda from Mukilteo WA

@Mike from Kew Gardens, NY

The fact that you walked in and SAW a dog which had just recently chewed up new wrapping paper could very well be a "bad dog" cue in itself, if that was how you FELT. Since dogs pick up on emotions like waves through the air, that dog did not need any specific word or phrase to be fearful of you.

And only past experience with humans who are expressing that emotion around a dog, during a specific type of situation, would create that fear, or what is popularly called "submission" within them. If a dog has already chewed paper and experienced an upset human, they may exhibit what appears to be "guilt" when a human appears, because they are experiencing fear of what they have felt in the past:

shredded paper + human = something to fear.

Jan. 13 2011 06:38 PM
Mike from Kew Gardens, NY

I'm sorry, Clive Wynne...

I've walked into a room where a dog had just finished tearing up new wrapping paper, and she was "submissive" WAY before she got any "bad dog!" cues.

Dec. 31 2010 09:47 AM
Casey Pons

I just got through watching the documentary, "The Cove" and it reminded me of this touching story of yours about mutual appreciation between humans, and our not so distant cousins. I am so glad Radiolab is still being produced. This is such a unique NPRish production. OPB does not aire your programs on a regular basis. I just might have to kick some booty down at headquarters.
Lovin you guys, and what you do! ;~}}}

Nov. 20 2010 05:19 PM
Eric Autenreith from Fayetteville, WV

Amazing work you guys and gals.

Some many years ago, on a Grand Canyon trip, some english teachers were talking about metaphors. I asked them to explain metaphores to me. In the process they all of a sudden came to the unanimous realization that words, themselves are metaphors- representing things we see, hear touch, feel,smell, etc...things we sense.

Who hasn't heard or spoken or felt the thought that, " Words cannot begin to express my gratitude... the depth of my shame...my joy..."?

The discussions about whether the whale feels "gratitude" or the dogs feel "shame" is perhaps an interesting philosophical or chemical question. But for practical purposes, is it not a useful to apply metaphors of gratitude and shame to the behavior of the whale and the dogs?

Oct. 03 2010 01:44 PM
Michael from Santa Barbara

Terrific topic and discussion; however, It appears to me that there is a fundamental flaw in the dog experiment. As a licensed psychotherapist, I have seen countless parents induce guilt in children ( through scolding and other means) who have done nothing wrong. There is no question that these children are feeling guilt. This is also no question that, in many instances, they have done nothing to warrant reproach. Therefore, it seems that one can induce guilt in sentient creatures regardless of guilt or innocence.

Oct. 01 2010 11:48 AM
Chris

this story is making the rounds on facebook today (9/30/10) with this pic. . . http://is.gd/fCdUg. . . just fyi.

Sep. 30 2010 09:54 AM
Lara Scott

I had not listened to the whole broadcast before I commented. Still curious as to how Dr. Wynne connects emotion, communication, thought, and behavior. The wolf, dog, chimp story seems to posit a different connection than his comments on the whale.

Great show.

Aug. 01 2010 02:41 PM
Lara Scott

Dr. Wynne seems more fearful of anthropomorphism than concerned with meaningful distinctions based on observation, at least in the brief time we hear from him. Why assume that bears and whales are more similar than whales and humans? Or that individual animals have no variation? Do 4 year olds communicate the same way that 40 year olds do? (most of the time?) Or pick any two people in your life who do not respond the same way to your assistance.

I respect the need to counterbalance our tendency to let emotional attachment override "rational" thought -- however, it seems that it's not only feelings of attachment that interfere with understanding what we observe.

Also, that the humans felt thanked by the whale could imply that the whale had figured out how to speak human enough to communicate with her rescuers. Lots of survival value in that -- isn't that a good natural science motivation?

Amazing story. I cried.

Aug. 01 2010 02:34 PM
Mara Maldonado from Louisville, KY

To the "motley" crew of divers and fisherman with the courage and compassion to rescue a distressed whale:

You are remarkable. You should inform the scientist; not the reverse. Don't expect validation from an expert regarding what you experienced. Give yourselves (and the sentient whale) credit for that moment of connection and communication.

Jul. 26 2010 06:15 PM
C. Corax from Massachusetts

Horowitz's experiment only tests the dog's behavior when it is scolded. A sense of guilt, if present, would have to precede the scolding.
Anyway, why do we assume that only the human animal experiences emotions? That's so Cartesian, and long ago proven utter hogwash.

Jun. 21 2010 09:26 AM
abina boesjes from Eugene, Oregon, USA

I'm not quite sure if we can trust the dog experiment, because all we read off dogs is body language, and as a human i've had times where ive been falsely accused of stuff, maybe even jokingly, but i still looked guilty, maybe i even felt a little guilty.
So how can you conclude that dogs do or do not feel a certain way because they showed guilty body language even though they where falsely accused?
it also brings up the question of how much of our morality is the result of what we've been raised to think is moral. (see Lucy on just how much our society & situations effect us) the dogs may simply put the owner as the unquestionable summit of moral ground. Aren't there fellow humans in history that we've given similar power?

May. 14 2010 12:36 AM
Shea

Hey, can anyone tell me the song that starts at 14:10? It's very melancholy, but in a good way...

May. 11 2010 02:43 AM
Leah from NYC

If we interpret the whale's actions as intentional,the whale's attention to the boat, may have been an acknowledgment of the people ON the boat who contributed to her rescue.

May. 10 2010 03:18 PM
Barbara Lamar from Texas, USA

I loved the story of the grateful whale. I once freed a coyote who had gotten her foot tangled in a wire fence. She was terrified when I first approached her. She struggled to get away, pulling the wire even tighter around her foot. But when she realized I meant to help her (somehow, she KNEW), she stood very still and let me cut the wire and untwist it from her foot, even though it must have been very scary and painful. After she was freed, she dashed off into the brush. But then she returned and stood a few feet away from me, just looking at my eyes. She stood there for what seemed a long time. I got the distinct impression she was thanking me and perhaps even inviting me to go with her. Then she turned around an trotted off into the brush. Dr. Wynne has not convinced me that there was not meaningful communication between me and that coyote.

May. 07 2010 03:34 AM
gretchenscharnagl from Miami

Humans act submissive when they feel guilty and can be made to feel guilty even when they are innocent. So the animal behaviorist expects the dogs to handle guilt in a more clear cut way than humans can.

Apr. 29 2010 01:14 PM
Stan Banos from SF

What the cynic, asshole Dr. seems to very much forget is that the whale has a brain much larger than his- which more closely resembles the size of the dog's.

Apr. 28 2010 02:53 AM
Rick Maida from Vallejo, CA

I heard the ‘Animals’ show about a week ago and so it is not fresh on my mind, however, I totally disagree with Dr. Wynne. His assertion is simply shallow to say the least. Although myself not a scientist, but an engineer who works with science and depends on scientific achievements, I know a thing or two about science. A simple distinction that many forget, including scientist, is that science can explain what it knows and understands, but it can’t explain what it does not know or understand. And so considering that Dr. Wynne does not speak whale and neither do I, he can’t so authoritatively disqualify the magical moment described in the story between humans and the whale, as not being an event of cross-species communications. He should have simply said he had no idea what the scientific explanation is.Cross species communications is a fact, otherwise, why does my dog sit when I tell him to sit?

Apr. 25 2010 12:14 AM
Casey Pons from Portland, Oregon

What an inspirational broadcast...
Reminded me of The last night (all night) my 22 year old Scottish Fold and I stayed up all night alone together knowing the next morning I was taking him in for a scheduled euthanasia appointment. That little guy would not leave my side that night, all he wanted to do was, just look into my eyes as if to say, "thank you for making the pain go away, and I will miss you too!"
Makes me feel almost human!
A Job Well Done, again... Radio Lab

Apr. 22 2010 12:19 AM
Lucky Von Letkemann from New York

I could do without any comments by Dr. Wynne. Of course the whale was thanking them. To question that is ridiculous, and attempt at scientific political correctness. Whales are extremely intelligent, and just because they don't speak English doesn't mean they don't have things to say. This whale did that very well.

Apr. 20 2010 01:32 PM
Dale from Brooklyn

Can we see a picture of the leopard seal that you mentioned in the show? The pic of seal trying to swallow the lens. Or where can we find it?

Apr. 16 2010 03:59 PM
Paige Miller from Point Pleasant, NJ

Dumb Radiolab! The whale story totally made me cry.

Apr. 16 2010 03:21 PM
tim young from San Francisco Ca

I just wanted to comment about the job you folks did with this very personal story. In my many rescues performed throughout my military career, i have to say there are few that were as precious and remarkable as this was for me. To have the story told as you did demonstrates the quality of programming that is sometimes so very hard to find in this sometimes chaotic world we ALL live in. Thank You.
PS: Yes she was demonstrating a simple thank you. Have you ever observed the lifelong behavior of a kennal rescued dog?

Apr. 13 2010 02:45 AM
Natasha Ramsburg from Virginia

What about instances in human interaction with each other when they misinterpret each others feelings i.e. in relationships when one person is upset or exudes body language or facial expressions that convince me that they are mad or upset with me? I misinterpret their emotions. Couldnt an animal and its human have similar circumstances in their interaction with each other? Could not the "test subject" dogs be ASSUMING they did something wrong when they are corrected, if in the past when their human shown similar emotions and reactions while correcting the animal for training purposes? I think it may be naive to think they can feel "guilt" and submission while being corrected for real reasons or being corrected for a control experiment. Couldnt they misunderstand?? There may be no way to prove that they CAN have emotions like that of humans, but conversely there is no way to prove that they DO NOT. Very interesting and thought provoking piece. Thank you.

Apr. 11 2010 07:57 PM
Tiffany from New York

Such a moving great piece. THANK YOU.

Apr. 09 2010 10:17 PM
Big O Chilla from cola town usa

I have listened to quite a few of these podcasts and in my opinion this is the best. A very transcendent experience.

Mar. 18 2010 08:54 PM
Greg from Ohio

Music at 22:30 is
“Danelectro 3″
Yo La Tengo / Danelectro EP
Itunes doesn’t have it but I got it from Rhapsody.com

If you like this song you would also like;
“Makambo”
Geoffrey Oryema

Feb. 24 2010 06:36 PM
mary from midwest

that thing about understanding what a pointing finger means -- i don't think it's a valid test of intelligence, although it is certainly a measure of acculturation to western humans. i just don't think its meaning is universal even among humans. that is, it seems to me that i've heard there are human cultures in which if you point, a member of that culture will look at your finger, rather than at what you think you're pointing at.

worth looking up. maybe.

Feb. 18 2010 08:37 PM
Nancy Whitney-Reiter from Dewey, AZ

Regarding dogs and feeling "guilt" v. "submission." The experiment conducted only addressed the fact that dogs who were yelled at (but hadn't done anything wrong)still looked "guilty." It was asserted that it must mean that dogs don't feel guilty, but rather only feel "submission." What about the fact that I can tell if my dog has done something wrong just by the look on her face? (In other words, my dog often gives her bad deeds away by her "guilty" looks...deeds that might otherwise have gone undetected.) I'm sure I'm not alone in this experience...

Feb. 08 2010 09:55 PM
Tim from Radiolab

Corey, Nat, and Rafael -
That lovely song is "Danelectro 3," by Yo La Tengo, off the Danelectro EP.
Tim

Feb. 08 2010 12:29 PM
Rafael Cruz from Jersey City, NJ

Yes. Could someone please give us the name of the song/artist that plays from 22:25-23:20. It is so peaceful and alluring. I think a many of us would appreciate it.

Feb. 08 2010 10:36 AM
Nat from Gaithersburg, MD

I can't pinpoint it for sure, but the music at 22:25-23:20 sounds very much like Bedhead (or perhaps a more recent configuration recording under the name The New Year). Can anyone confirm?

Jan. 28 2010 01:06 PM
elisa

this whale story reminded me of a true story i read about a woman who helped reunite a baby grey whale and its mother. the whales had been separated and then confused by noises from ocean vessels. the woman stayed with the calf for hours, swimming around in the ocean, desperately looking for the mother. amazingly, they found her, and once the calf and mother were reunited, the mother whale exhibited behavior very similar to the whale in the radiolab story--swimming by several times very close, looking the woman right in the eye. i am convinced these are displays of gratitude.

here's the book: http://www.amazon.com/Grayson-Lynne-Cox/dp/0156034670/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264525927&sr=1-1

Jan. 26 2010 12:14 PM
Corey J from Denver, CO

What is the wonderful music that plays at 22:25 - 23:25?? I am dying to know and cannot for the life of me find out.

Jan. 21 2010 02:49 AM
Who Cares

Not your best work. Could have been better...

Jan. 18 2010 12:11 AM
Daniel Ezell from San Anselmo, CA

The Marine Mammal Center has a few pages dedicated to the whale rescue on their website: http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/learning/comm/whalerescue.asp

Also, a fascinating narrative piece about the rescue here: http://www.anitabartholomew.com/WhaleRescue.htm

Jan. 14 2010 02:57 PM
Oliver

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article6973994.ece

Jan. 13 2010 10:34 PM
John Dyer from Southlake TX

Gentlemen, this was a wonderful broadcast. The best part of this was that, for me, it returned me to a time when imagination and radio reigned supreme. Listening to the ceremony at St. John the Divine, the story of the humpback whale, and much later, the leopard seal was a great experience. I'd almost forgotten how vivid the imagery of radio can be.

Keep it up.

Jan. 13 2010 09:21 PM
Jason from brooklyn

oh no! so sad. but I guess happy....

Jan. 13 2010 12:38 PM

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