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Whale Research Center

Motherly instincts and love aren't just human, they're mammalian

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She held onto her baby, who died shortly after birth, for as long as she could. Even after the body grew cold and stiff, she carried her child. She didn't want to let go.

She is a whale, an orca known as J35 or Tahlequah, but many humans who watched her mourn for more than two weeks could empathize with her plight and understood her behavior. For 17 days we watched her grieve. And on August 11 the Whale Research Center confirmed she finally let her baby go. We may be a different species, but we know how hard that was, and how it went against her instincts as a mother.

"It is very familiar to any of us who has lost a family member, and that is why people around the world are feeling sad for her. It is so easy to empathize with her for what she is going through, that is her baby and she carried this baby for 18 months. She had a little bit of time, about 30 minutes with her child, and then she watched her die," Lori Marino, a marine mammal intelligence specialist told the Seattle Times earlier this month.

"I think that is what we are seeing; she is attached and just as when someone dies in our own lives, she is neglecting herself because this is taking precedence over everything," said Marino.

Her grief is just one example of how maternal instincts and the behaviors that lead to mother-infant bonding can be similar across species.

Mammalian maternal instinct

According to Dr. Dayu Lin, an assistant professor at the Neuroscience Institute at NYU Langone Health, evolution has conserved biochemistry in most mammals.

This may explain why whales, mice and humans can all seem to exhibit similar maternal behaviors, because, according to Lin's recent study of mice, a mother's instinct to grab her wandering pups is related to a specific set of brain cell signals designed to keep babies out of danger.

"Our study shows precisely how a maternal instinct is generated in the mammalian brain," Lin explained in a media release. She believes the study may help explain human behaviors, like rocking a newborn, and could even lead to therapies for human moms who are having trouble with things like breastfeeding or bonding with their babies.

Why we carry our babies

Another study, this one published in 2013 in Current Biology, again shows how similar the behavior of different mammalian moms can be, but also how similar our babies responses to those behaviors are.

After neuroscientist Kumi Kuroda became a mother herself, she noticed, as so many of us do, that carrying her son while she walked was a great way to calm the newborn down. As Science reports, Kuroda brought this observation to her work in the lab at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, near Tokyo, and found that picking up mouse pups by the scruff of the neck makes them calm, too.

"We didn't expect that," Kuroda said, noting that researchers examined the way the mice pups and infants responded to being picked up and found three responses (stopping crying, becoming passive and experiencing a decreased heart rate) "are very similar in mice and humans."

Lin's study suggests a mother's instinct to carry her baby away from danger is similar across species, and Kuroda's suggests mammalian babies love being carried because it makes carrying them away from danger easier for us moms.

From mice to whales

So was J35 trying to calm her deceased baby and carry it away from danger for 17 days? Perhaps that was part of it, at first.

"She literally is pushing her baby to connect with it and, hope against hope -- hoping that it will take a breath, which it will never do," biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CBSN.

Eventually though, J35 knew that her baby was gone for good. Her response wasn't just mammalian maternal instinct, it was something else that crosses species lines.

Speaking to CBC's On The Coast, anthropologist Barbara King explained, "grief and love are not human qualities. They're things we share with some other animals."

A 2017 found "overwhelming evidence that cetaceans have sophisticated social and cooperative behavior traits, similar to many found in human culture", according to the University of Manchester.

Empathic reactions

It's our mammalian instinct to carry our babies, and as fellow mamas we can empathize with J35. When the Seattle Times asked for reactions to the story, one reader, Cori McKenzie, wrote:

"Our middle daughter was stillborn six years ago. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of her. I think every baby-loss parent I have ever met relates to Tahlequah."

McKenzie said she wished she could have spent a "week or more" with her daughter, like J35 did. And she hopes the outpouring of empathy for the whale might translate into more empathy for human parents, too.

"We all wish that our society and culture would recognize how deep this loss is felt and how it changes you down to your core," McKenzie explained.

Self-care, support, and stewardship

Carrying the weight of her lost calf for so long and over such a distance was hard on J35 physically, and emotionally.

She was "not acting in a way she normally would in terms of self-care," Barbara King, professor of anthropology and author of the book "How Animals Grieve", told the Seattle Times.

It is so hard to care for yourself when you just want to care for your lost baby. Mothers like McKenzie can relate to that, too. J35's pod supported her in her grief, even taking turns carrying the baby when her mother was too weak. We can empathize with our fellow mammals, but maybe we should learn from them, too.

According to whale researchers, the lesson here isn't just that we need to be more like the whales, but that we have to protect them, too. The Whale Museum is hoping that empathy can turn into action and that humanity will take steps to protect and restore the salmon population J35's pod feeds on, and reduce ocean pollution.

"In 6 months when these events may not be in the spotlight, remember the feeling you have right now," Whale Museum staff wrote in a recent Facebook post.

For mothers who've been through what J35 has, those feelings are never forgotten.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Last month Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom announced some big news: The engaged pair are expecting a baby!

Perry announced her pregnancy when the music video for her single, "Never Worn White" showed her rocking a bump and this weekend she announced she's expecting a posting a photo of Bloom's face covered in pink frosting.

She geotagged the photo "Girls Run the World" and captioned it "💕 It's a girl 💕."

Clearly, this man is thrilled about becoming a #girldad.

Perry is due in the summer, as she previously noted on Instagram.


"Let's just say it's gonna be a jam packed summer..." she captioned her original pregnancy announcement.

"OMG, so glad I don't have to suck it in anymore," Perry tweeted after the big news went public.

"I am excited. We're excited and happy and it's probably the longest secret I've ever had to keep," Perry explained in a live stream with fans.

Of course not long after Perry announced her pregnancy the world changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the pandemic, Perry and Bloom have postponed their wedding, according to People and are pretty much just laying low at home trying to enjoy Perry's pregnancy as much as possible during this difficult time.

Perry recently told Stellar Magazine that the wedding is about more than throwing a big bash, so while it would be totally normal to be disappointed by having to postpone it, the mom-to-be seems to be in a good place regarding her nuptials.

She told Stellar: "It's not about the party. It's about the coming together of people who will hold us accountable when things get really hard. Those are just the facts when you're with someone who challenges you to be your best self."

The little girl Bloom and Perry are expecting will have a lot of people to love on her. While this is the first child for Perry, Bloom is already a dad to a 9-year-old boy who will soon be a big brother.

Congratulations to Perry + Bloom!


Pink opened up about her family's fight against coronavirus late Friday, taking to Instagram to make a big announcement.

"Two weeks ago my three-year old son, Jameson, and I are were showing symptoms of COVID-19," Pink revealed, noting that she tested positive and has since recovered.

She continued: "My family was already sheltering at home and we continued to do so for the last two weeks following the instruction of our doctor. Just a few days ago we were re-tested and are now thankfully negative. It is an absolute travesty and failure of our government to not make testing more widely accessible. This illness is serious and real."


After dealing with the virus on a personal level and recognizing her privilege in being able to access testing, Pink decided to donate $1 million to fight coronavirus and hopefully protect others.

"In an effort to support the healthcare professionals who are battling on the frontlines every day, I am donating $500,000 to the Temple University Hospital Emergency Fund in Philadelphia in honor of my mother, Judy Moore, who worked there for 18 years in the Cardiomyopathy and Heart Transplant Center. Additionally, I am donating $500,000 to the City of Los Angeles Mayor's Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund," she announced via Instagram.

Pink ended her update by thanking the brave healthcare workers on the front lines and reminding the rest of us to stay home.

For more information on COVID-19 and how it is impacting families, visit


On Friday President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control is now advising people to wear a cloth mask if they need to go out in public. It's not a rule, he says, but a recommendation.

"It's really going to be a voluntary thing," President Trump told reporters. "I'm not choosing to do it."

First Lady Melania Trump is urging others to do it, tweeting, "As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone—we can stop this together."

What the CDC says about cloth face masks:

The CDC says it's recommending cloth face masks because recent studies show that people can have COVID-19 while asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine and because they don't know they are sick they might still be going about their daily routine in their community.


Basically, masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect people from the wearer (who might not know they are sick) by blocking respiratory droplets

"So it's not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor," Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, tells NPR.

CDC experts are "advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

They say if you're going somewhere where it's hard to maintain the proper social distance of six feet, like a grocery store or a pharmacy, then it's a good idea to wear a simple cloth mask.

"The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance," the CDC states.

"You may need to improvise a cloth face covering using a scarf or bandana," the agency notes on its website.

A DIY cloth mask is an extra layer of protection:

The CDC still says that staying home and practicing good hand hygiene is the best protection against COVID-19, but a cloth mask would be an extra layer of protection if you must go out to get food or unavoidable medical care.

According to Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, certain types of fabric are better than others when it comes to making a mask. While he CDC says improvised bandanas or scarfs are better than nothing, Segal says DIY mask makers should aim a little higher for the masks to be effective.

"You have to use relatively high-quality cloth," Dr.Segal, who is researching this topic, tells NBC News.

According to Segal you don't want to use a knit fabric (like an old T-shirt) but rather a woven fabric. He suggests a double layer of heavyweight cotton with a thread count of at least 180 (like quilters cotton). If you don't have a cotton with that high of a thread count, line it with flannel.

For more tips on how to sew a fabric face mask, check out these instructions from Kaiser Permanente.

No-sew methods:

If you're not a sewer you can still fashion a mask, and there are plenty of no-sew tutorials online showing you how. Use heavyweight woven fabric like Segal suggests and make one of these without a sewing machine.

How To Make a Pleated Face Mask // Washable, Reusable, No-Sewing Required

Should kids wear masks? Talk to your doctor.

The CDC is not recommending masks if you're just going for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard (which is the extent of most kids' outings these days). The masks are more for grocery runs, which many parents are opting to do alone these days.

But solo parents and those with partners who are in the military know that leaving the kids behind isn't always an option if you're the only adult in the home. If that's your circumstance, choose delivery options when possible to avoid taking your children to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies (the kinds of places the CDC recommends masks for).

If you are concerned that you may need to take your child somewhere where a mask would be required, call your pediatrician for advice on whether a mask is appropriate for your child's age and circumstances. Babies' faces should not be covered.

If you have no one to watch your children while you get groceries and cannot get them delivered try contacting your local government, community groups and churches for leads on grocery delivery help. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who can fetch groceries for you so that you don't have to take your children to the store with you.


Starting this weekend Target and Walmart will be limiting the number of people allowed in its stores to give shoppers and staff more space to spread out and adhere to social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Beginning April 4, Target will actively monitor and, when needed, limit the total number of people inside based on the store's specific square footage," Target notes in a news release.

Walmart's corporate message is similar: "Starting Saturday, we will limit the number of customers who can be in a store at once. Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store's capacity."


At Target you will also notice staff wearing gloves and masks over the next two weeks as the company steps up its coronavirus protection measures.

Many people are choosing to stay home and order groceries online, but that's not an option for everyone as long lines at some Target's prove.

"We're incredibly proud of the commitment our more than 350,000 frontline team members have demonstrated to ensure millions of guests can count on Target, and we'll continue to focus our efforts on supporting them," says Target's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, John Mulligan.

Target is open this weekend but—along with Costco, Aldi, Publix and Trader Joe's—Target stores will be closed on Easter Sunday to give the essential employees in these stores a much-deserved break.

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