Weird Nature
364 voters

Wholesome Animal Facts That Made Us Say 'Aww'

June 1, 2021 2.1k votes 364 voters 11.0k views10 items

List RulesVote up the most heartwarming facts about animals.

From the outside looking in, the animal kingdom often appears to be a cruel and dangerous place, utterly lacking in empathy. Yet many studies have revealed that animals care more about each other than we previously guessed.

Cows don't just blithely chew their cud; they develop friendships that positively affect their health. Rats aren't just survivors; they understand the suffering of their fellow rats. Bears aren't just after our trash and honey; given the right environment, they can become war heroes.

The most wholesome facts about animals involve how they play, how they interact with other animals, and how they protect each other. Vote up the animal facts that make you smile.

  • Photo: Whit Welles / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Humpback Whales Protect Other Creatures From Orcas

    Humpback whales protect other ocean creatures from orcas (AKA killer whales) - and seem to do it out of an innate sense of compassion. In 2009, Robert Pitman, a member of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, observed the following encounter in Antarctica:

    A group of killer whales washed a Weddell seal they were attacking off an ice floe. The seal swam frantically toward a pair of humpbacks that had inserted themselves into the action. One of the huge humpbacks rolled over on its back and the 180-kilogram seal was swept up onto its chest between the whale’s massive flippers. When the killer whales moved in closer, the humpback arched its chest, lifting the seal out of the water. And when the seal started slipping off, the humpback, according to Pitman, “gave the seal a gentle nudge with its flipper, back to the middle of its chest. Moments later, the seal scrambled off and swam to the safety of a nearby ice floe.”

    Pitman has since collected 115 similar accounts of people witnessing humpbacks interfering with killer whales. But why do they do it?

    Orcas do hunt young humpbacks, so it's possible that humpbacks are responding to past trauma. However, the Smithsonian writes that humpbacks will deliberately race toward a group of killer whales, "like firefighters into burning buildings," without even knowing what kind of creature is under attack.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    American Crows Are Very Close To Their Parents

    When most young birds are old enough to leave their nest, they are chased off by their parents and never see them again. This is not the case with American crows. Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology writes that American crows are never chased away by their parents, and in fact remain with their parents for many years.

    These young crows not only defend the nest, but also help raise their younger siblings. According to McGowan:

    Some crows stay with their parents for up to five years or even longer... While they wait for a breeding opportunity, most crows help their parents raise young. They help feed the incubating female, feed the nestlings and fledglings, defend the territory and the nest, and stand guard over other family members while they forage. Such cooperative breeding behavior is rare in birds. Only a handful of species in North America exhibit it...

    Young crows may leave the nest for a time - for days, weeks, or a season - but then usually return to their family. McGowan notes one crow left its family unit for a year, returned for a day to help them forage, and then disappeared again. It was just back for a visit.

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    Cows Have Best Friends

    According to one United Kingdom study, when commercial cows are sent out into a pasture to graze, most of them do so next to a particular cow buddy. When these cows are separated from the herd, their heart rates are significantly lower - and their agitation notably diminished - if they are paired up with their best friend instead of a random member of the herd. 

    Evidence suggests this behavior may also occur in the wild. According to The Atlantic, "wild bovines, too, form platonic partnerships. Older male buffalo, for example, sometimes establish dyads with other bulls."

    Cows also seem to react positively to human friendship. One study found that cows with names produce 5% more milk than cows that do not. As cattle behaviorist Catherine Douglas explains, it's not the name itself that does the trick, it's the fact that the cow is treated as more than a number. A more relaxed cow is not as likely to kick or interrupt the milking process, and they'll produce fewer stress hormones that impede milk production.

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    Dolphins Call Each Other By Name

    Dolphins communicate with each other by whistling, and multiple studies show that dolphins respond to a "signature whistle" that serves as their name.

    As National Geographic writes:

    The idea that dolphins have a name in the form of a whistle has been around since the 1960s, and studies of captive dolphins have shown that the animals are responsive to the whistles of dolphins they know.

    But a new study takes the theory a step further by asserting that a dolphin will respond when it hears the sound of its own signature whistle, repeating that whistle back in a way that seems to say, "Yup, I'm here - did you call my name?" explained Whitney Friedman, a dolphin-behavior expert at the University of California, San Diego.