Vegan Perspective on a Grieving Mother Whale

by | August 14, 2018

What to say about Tahlequah, about the grieving mother whale who finally said goodbye to her baby?

So much has already been written about this true story of maternal love, of strength, of supportive community in a matriarchal society. So I will just add a vegan perspective, from out here in Whale Country.

I live on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, where whale-watching boats dock, and you can even spot orca whales while sipping a soy latte at the downtown coffee shop. People here love the orcas. This love runs deep, the way many Americans love dogs. Around here, orcas are on the list of “animals we care about.”

And so my friends—my non-vegan friends—have followed the story of this grieving mother whale, shared updates on Facebook, let themselves relate and cry.

Every day, I’ve cried about Tahlequah and her baby too, this socially acceptable reason to cry about love and pain and heartache in another species. But also, every day, I’ve angrily wondered when the culture will shift so it will be socially acceptable to cry about other animals too.

When will I be able to share the story of a grieving mother cow without looking like “that crazy vegan, at it again”?

Why does the story of a mother whale inspire empathy in all of us, while the story of a grieving cow reads as vegan propaganda?


I know the answer: because, in my culture, people eat cows.

Until people stop arbitrarily categorizing animals as either “animals we care about” or “animals we eat,” I think the world will remain harsh and uncaring, humans will continue to commit terrible atrocities, and we vegans will continue to feel isolated in our empathy.

Some cultures eat dogs; some don’t. Some cultures eat cats; some don’t. Some cultures eat pigs; some don’t. These cultural norms are about tradition, not about whether the animals deserve to be food.

Whales, whom most of us do not eat, are available for widespread human empathy.


Meanwhile, if you do eat an animal, how can you emotionally afford to grieve with that animal, to relate to them, to see them as loving mothers, as kidnapped children, as broken families?  

Only when I stopped eating animal products could I fully admit to myself how monstrous the system is that breeds, slaughters, and commodifies non-human animals. When I finally said, “I’m sorry; I will never do that to you again,” I felt such relief, a weight taken off of me, the weight of cognitive dissonance.

This week, I grieved with Tahlequah, the grieving mother whale. I thought about my own child and how I would do anything for her, how her death would break me. And I also thought about how every glass of cow milk comes from a mother whose baby was taken away from her, because a human wanted to drink her breast milk, or turn it into cheese.

Every story of a loving parent makes me feel closer with other parents, of every species.


Vegans, this community is here with you, sharing the vegan perspective, feeling it too.

And non-vegans, when you feel that cognitive dissonance, that little tickle of empathy for a being you’ve been told is on the “animals we eat” list, let it in. Feel it. Our empathy is one of our greatest assets, can empower us to do so much good.

We all love our babies. We can all grieve together, and then we can all work together to make a kinder world for them.

Darcy Reeder

Darcy Reeder’s been a journalist, a vegan pastry chef, owned a vegan pizzeria, and now she plays with kids all day (as a mama and a Kaleidoscope Play & Learn facilitator).


Categories: News


One Response to “Vegan Perspective on a Grieving Mother Whale”

  1. Giuseppe
    August 15th, 2018 @ 3:19 am

    Hi, as both a vegan AND a scientist I find the whole “grieving mother orca” saga very difficult to stomach.
    On the one hand, as a vegan I do strongly *believe* that non-human animals should have the same rights as humans do; but on the other, as a scientist I cringe whenever people make statements of fact like “the orca is grieving”. We simply cannot tell! We do not have the evidence to tell *what* that behaviour means for the orca, because until (IF) we can establish a 2-way meaningful communication we won’t know for sure…
    I really don’t think it’s appropriate to project human-centric interpretations on animals’ behaviour, and frankly I see no need for it: i believe that we can have empathy and respect towards non-human animals without humanising or even pretending to understand them

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