Investigating Empathy in Southeast Alaskan Humpback Whales

Laurance Doyle
SETI Institute

Project Summary

In an apparent display of altruism, humpback whales have been documented putting their own well-being at risk to come to the aid of smaller species in mortal distress. This exhibition of altruistic behavior may be indicative of empathy. Directed by Laurance Doyle, this Diverse Intelligences project will employ acoustic playbacks of predatory species (killer whales), coupled with the distress sounds of imperiled sea lions, in an effort to use empirical science to test for evidence of empathy in a non-human species that is evolutionarily separated from humans by 65 million years. In doing so, Dr. Doyle’s team will expand the lens of knowledge pertaining to compassionate action (that in many traditions forms the ethical foundation for human societies), and extend this theoretical foundation to include non-human species in the context of their own natural systems.

Project Details

Project Duration

1 June 202031 August 2022

Core Funding Area

Big Questions


Diverse Intelligences

Region of Activity

North America

TWCF Number


Amount Awarded



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