[MARMAM] Perception of a cetacean mass stranding in Italy: the emergence of compassion

Giovanni Bearzi giovanni.bearzi at gmail.com
Sun Aug 29 21:41:20 PDT 2010

The following article has just become available online:

Perception of a cetacean mass stranding in Italy: the emergence of

Giovanni Bearzi, Nino Pierantonio, Silvia Bonizzoni, Giuseppe Notarbartolo
di Sciara, Massimo Demma. 2010.

Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. DOI:


1. The view that whales are malicious monsters has been pervasive throughout
history. Conversely, the idea that these animals experience suffering has
emerged only recently. One way of investigating perceptual, as well as
behavioural, shifts is assessing general public reactions to mortality
events involving wild, rare and charismatic animals.

2. Here, the responses of 118 individuals to questions regarding the mass
stranding of seven sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) along the Adriatic
Sea coast of Italy in December 2009 are reported through interviews taken at
the stranding site and in the direct proximity of the dead animals.

3. When asked why the whales were stranded, 44.1% of the respondents
suggested anthropogenic causes and 21.2% non-anthropogenic. The remaining
34.7% mentioned a generic Œdisorientation¹ or stated they did not know. When
asked how they felt about the whales, 68.6% expressed feelings of compassion
or care towards the animals. Clearly non-compassionate attitudes accounted
for only 4.1% of the sample. Finally, 21.2% expressed feelings that were
ambiguous in terms of being suggestive of compassionate or non-compassionate
attitudes, including 11.9% amazement, 4.2% deprecation and 5.1%

4. These results are in stark contrast with information obtained from
accounts of similar events that have occurred in historical times, up until
the first half of the 20th century. For centuries, responses to cetacean
live strandings‹typically including killing and harming of the animals‹were
either utilitarian or characterized by feelings including fear and a desire
to Œsubjugate the beast¹, with no apparent concern for their suffering and

5. It is concluded that attitudes towards whales‹today strikingly revolving
around sadness, compassion and a sense of loss‹have changed dramatically
over time, with a steep turnaround in the 1970/1980s. Full appreciation of
the ongoing evolution in public perception can channel marine conservation
efforts and assist in the design of response strategies to marine mammal


A pdf copy can be obtained from the journal's web site:


or from me:

giovanni.bearzi at gmail.com


Giovanni Bearzi, Ph.D.

President, Tethys Research Institute
Viale G.B Gadio 2, 20121 Milano, Italy



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