On grief and galaxy

Ember and dolphin

I think I’ve shared this before, this realisation that one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it’s provided an impetus for looking inward. Restrictions, working from home, and physical distancing have allowed us to make space for reflection. At least for those of us lucky enough to be able to. In some ways, it’s also made us re-appreciate the treasures we hold within our own State. The Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary is one place in South Australia which I think is very special. There are not very many places in the world where wild and free dolphins live so close to a capital city. 

I’ve always wondered why the Port River dolphins choose to live here. I don’t think there is a clear, scientific answer still, what’s more important is that they’re here and they are sharing their home with us. Last month, another one of the calves, Galaxy, passed away. Galaxy was only born this year and was only six months old when she passed. ‘In the last three years, we have had 10 out of 12 calves pass away’, I read. Such heart-breaking statistics to read. I could write an entire chapter about what we could do to help protect them, but right now I can’t help but think about Galaxy’s mum, Tiffany, and how she would be feeling. 

There are numerous scientific papers demonstrating evidence of grief-like behaviour from animals, including marine mammals like whales and dolphins. Port River dolphin mums have been observed to display similar mourning behaviour, with dolphin mums balancing their calf’s lifeless body on their back, or pushing it with her nose as she swims.

What do they understand about death? Is this behaviour part of their letting go process or are they simple trying to get a response from their offspring and/or revive it? Why do the present with such attentive behaviour to their dead? In some instances, mum cetaceans have been found to exhibit maladaptive behaviours like stranding themselves or carrying their dead calf for very long periods. Is this, their needing to go through a process of loss, an indication of attachment?

I wish I could give Tiffany a hug or let her know that she isn’t mourning alone. Or maybe, as with other mothers, we express our love through action. I’m taking a bit of time today to sit in sadness for the passing of another member of the Port River dolphin family, and tomorrow, I continue my work with others who relentlessly keep the Sanctuary a special place, for the dolphins, for the others who live in that habitat, and for us and our own children who can then continue to enjoy the presence of dolphins in their lives.

So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly


Tagged in What messes with your head, volunteer, conservation, south australia, dolphin