Nov 26, 2021

Animal Minds

In this hour of Radiolab, stories of cross-species communication.

When we gaze into the eyes of a wild animal, or even a beloved pet, can we ever really know what they might be thinking? Is it naive to assume they're experiencing something close to human emotions? Or is it ridiculous to assume that they AREN'T feeling something like that? We get the story of a rescued whale that may have found a way to say thanks, ask whether dogs feel guilt, and wonder if a successful predator may have fallen in love with a photographer.

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Introduction:                You're listening to Radiolab.

Introduction:                Radiolab.

Introduction:                From.

Introduction:                From WNY.

Introduction:                C.C.C.

Introduction:                C.

Introduction:                And NPR.

Robert Krulwich:           So where are we?

Jad Abumrad:               Um, we're at church.

Robert Krulwich:           In a church. Oh, that's, that's different for us.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah. It's not usually where we start, we're in a church.

Robert Krulwich:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jad Abumrad:               Cathedral really. A huge cathedral in upper Manhattan, St. John the Divine. We've got an organ.

Church Envior.:             (preacher)

Jad Abumrad:               The preacher, there's the preacher.

Robert Krulwich:           Congregation of course.

Jad Abumrad:               Mm-hmm (affirmative). A couple of thousand people in the pews at least.

Church Envior.:             Jesus said "Therefore, I trust you."

Jad Abumrad:               Your basic Sunday service.

Church Envior.:             If any of you find worrying, and the single-[crosstalk 00:00:51]

Jad Abumrad:               Except today. You've also got... Here it comes.

Church Envior.:             (barking)

Jad Abumrad:               Dogs.

Church Envior.:             Look at the dogs over here. (howling)

Jad Abumrad:               The reason we begin here is because today the church is filled with dogs.

Interviewer:                  Can I talk to you about your dog?

Speaker 5:                    Yeah.

Interviewer:                  What's his or her name?

Speaker 5:                    His name is [Blizzer 00:01:09].

Interviewer:                  And what is he?

Speaker 5:                    He's a Labrador and poodle mix.

Speaker 6:                    Well I have Legend who I just adopted in January.

Interviewer:                  Okay.

Speaker 6:                    I have Denzel.

Jad Abumrad:               Note by the way, you know more than dogs you've got birds.

Speaker 7:                    His name is Jessie. It's a barn owl.

Interviewer:                  And now has this guy ever been blessed before?

Speaker 7:                    I don't think so. No. He was just born this year.

Jad Abumrad:               And hamsters.

Speaker 8:                    His name is Tubby. Tubby toes, and if he'd come out you'd see why, it's because he's really fat.

Jad Abumrad:               And all kinds of creatures.

Interviewer:                  We've got a little girl with a falcon, and behind her... Oh, it's a giant tortoise.

Jad Abumrad:               This is the St. Francis day of the animals, it's a yearly event.

Interviewer:                  Wait and coming towards us.

Jad Abumrad:               Where people bring their animals to be blessed.

Interviewer:                  Is a donkey.

Jad Abumrad:               The folks that are gathered here...

Interviewer:                  And there's a little girl with a hermit crab.

Jad Abumrad:               They don't think there's anything weird or inappropriate about this. In fact if you ask them...

Interviewer:                  And here comes a bull.

Jad Abumrad:               Here's what they say.

Speaker 9:                    I don't know if it means anything to her but it means it to me.

Speaker 10:                  Yeah.

Speaker 9:                    Because you know you want it to, um, baptize your babies.

Speaker 10:                  Yeah.

Speaker 9:                    And this is more or less the same kind of thing.

Interviewer:                  And what is it, what does it mean to you?

Speaker 9:                    It just means when, when she finally does go away she's gonna, uh, go to heaven.

Interviewer:                  And what kind of parrot is she?

Speaker 11:                  A Macaw, blue and gold.

Chuckles:                      Mama.

Speaker 11:                  Oh, yeah don't put your hand near his face.

Interviewer:                  And what's his name?

Speaker 11:                  Chuckles.

Interviewer:                  Chuckles.

Chuckles:                      Bye, bye.

Interviewer:                  Do you feel like he has a, a soul, or an inner life of some sort?

Speaker 11:                  It's a thinking being. They're, they are as smart as we are, really. [crosstalk 00:02:33]

Robert Krulwich:           Jad?

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah.

Robert Krulwich:           Uh, since you invited me here I don't want to be impolite or anything.

Jad Abumrad:               Say what you're going to say.

Robert Krulwich:           Well, okay. Th- th- these people of course they love their animals.

Jad Abumrad:               Sure, yeah you can hear that.

Speaker 13:                  Because when I'm feeling sad he comes in the bed, and he lays down spine to spine with me, and he just doesn't leave my side.

Robert Krulwich:           But aren't they presuming a little bit, that the animals they love are going to feel the grace of the prayer, or feel the blessing, which is a...

Jad Abumrad:               Which raises a question.

Robert Krulwich:           What do we really know about what goes on inside the animals mind?

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, all those things you might feel in a church grace, gratitude, uh, guilt. Can the animals feel those things too?

Robert Krulwich:           How much can we share?

Jad Abumrad:               And can you measure it?

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich:           I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad:               This is Radiolab.

Church Envior.:             (organ music/singing)

Robert Krulwich:           And we'll begin the hour with a story about an animal who would I'm sure loved to have been at the worship service but was, it was a very inconvenient thing for him.

Jad Abumrad:               He didn't get the info.

Robert Krulwich:           He couldn't quite get there.

Jad Abumrad:               Okay just to get things rolling. This is a story, uh, that we heard about-

Mick Menago:               It's okay I give them enough to talk about as it is.

Jad Abumrad:               First from the following dude.

Jad Abumrad:               Hey is it Mick or is it Mike?

Mick Menago:               Uh, I got by Mick. There's way too many Mikes around.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs) Oh, okay. Mick [Menago 00:04:04] is his name.

Mick Menago:               Well the boats down here-

Jad Abumrad:               And, uh, we met Mick recently at the Emeryville Marina, which is not far from San Francisco, where he's got a boat called the Super Fish. That Mick says he rents out for all kinds of things.

Mick Menago:               Nature trips to ash scattering, bachelor parties, fireworks watching. I don't care. I got a little cardboard sign, I stand by the freeway it says have boat, need work.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs) So yeah that's Nick. And our story begins one morning in December.

Mick Menago:               Probably eight o'clock in the morning or something as I recall.

Jad Abumrad:               It's a few years back, Mick just kind of sitting at home.

Mick Menago:               I was at home, yeah. It was the middle of December we didn't have any work.

Jad Abumrad:               But then he gets this call.

Mick Menago:               Hello. I got this call... Hello there.

Jad Abumrad:               It was a call relaying a message from a fisherman way out at sea.

Mick Menago:               18 miles maybe, outside the Golden Gate Bridge. They told me that there was a whale in trouble, tangled up in crab gear, and it didn't appear to be able to move. (music)

Jad Abumrad:               So after he hangs up Mick immediately calls a few dive buddies.

Mick Menago:               Tim Young.

Tim Young:                   Tim Young, Air Force Pararescue.

Mick Menago:               And then, uh, let's see.

James Moskito:             James Moskito.

Mick Menago:               James Moskito.

James Moskito:             Professional diver.

Mick Menago:               I called him and said "Hey you know here's the deal. Are you interested?"

Tim Young:                   It was a no brainer.

James Moskito:             I said "Yeah, I'm in absolutely."

Mick Menago:               I figured alright we're going.

James Moskito:             So I packed up my stuff.

Tim Young:                   Grabbed my gear, and I went directly to the boat.

Holly Drewyard:            And we left underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. (music) Nothing but the horizon in front of us.

Holly Drewyard:            My name is Holly [Drewyard 00:05:27] I am James' significant other. (laugh) We motored out for about two hours. I did due west towards the Farallon Islands.

Speaker 19:                  What were you feeling when you were on the boat heading out?

Holly Drewyard:            I didn't think we'd find her. I really didn't.

Jad Abumrad:               But at 18 miles off the coast, completely open water one of the divers spots some crab buoys in the distance, and some seagulls flying overhead. And as they got closer...

Holly Drewyard:            Well I saw the whale.

Tim Young:                   It was just a-

Holly Drewyard:            Just the very top of the whale.

Tim Young:                   Sticking up about maybe six inches out of the water.

Holly Drewyard:            At the surface.

Jad Abumrad:               A tiny sliver of black.

Tim Young:                   And that was it. And then I said “Okay, we need to see what's going on, so uh..."

Jad Abumrad:               So Tim and James jump into an inflatable boat, and they paddle about a couple of hundred feet from the whale.

James Moskito:             And it just wasn't happening. Every time that this whale came on up it would just displace the boat back again, so it would push us back again.

Jad Abumrad:               Not to mention.

Tim Young:                   The visibility in the water was just terrible.

Jad Abumrad:               They couldn't even see down there to see, you know what they were dealing with.

James Moskito:             And you know what sometimes plans have to change in, in mid-flight.

Jad Abumrad:               So Tim and James look at each other and without saying a word.

James Moskito:             Boom we got out of the boat and-

Tim Young:                   Splashed into the water.

James Moskito:             And I see a shadow. This massive animal.

Tim Young:                   A hazy silhouette.

James Moskito:             And, we just started swimming.

Tim Young:                   To the whale. About a 100 feet away...

James Moskito:             Uh, you know parts of blubber and skin floating around.

Tim Young:                   35 feet. 20 feet.

Jad Abumrad:               And then they see it.

James Moskito:             My goodness this thing is the size of a school bus.

Jad Abumrad:               A female humpback whale is one of the largest creatures on the planet, 50 feet long, 50 tons, and this particular whale wasn't in a kind of C shape. Where it's head was at the top of the water, but it's tail was almost pointed directly down.

James Moskito:             It was almost like somebody was pulling her down by the tail to the bottom of the ocean.

Tim Young:                   Yeah there was probably 20 crab traps. 2,000 pounds at least just tied up to the tail.

James Moskito:             She had just become an anchor.

Tim Young:                   An anchor.

James Moskito:             And to see her not be able to move that tail, and to struggle.

Tim Young:                   Just like (breath sound) The whale was actually really (breath sound) laboring to breathe. (breath sound) Just a little puff and there was just rope everywhere.

Tim Young:                   It went around the whale's mouth, around the whale's head.

Jad Abumrad:               Across her eye, over her back.

Tim Young:                   Wrapped around the pectoral fins, all the way down to his tail. I thought there was no hope.

James Moskito:             There was no chance.

Tim Young:                   We're looking at a dead whale. The whale just doesn't know it yet.

Tim Young:                   But I knew that I had to try when to swim to the whale. And as soon as I decide okay I'm going to swim to the whale, well the whale decides she wasn't going to have that.

Jad Abumrad:               What she'd do.

Tim Young:                   She put up her pectoral fin, which is like her arm, and this pectoral fin I about 15 feet long, it's about four feet wide, and she just (music) splashed down the water in front of me. You know it's the size of an airplane wing coming down on top of you, just inches from my head.

Tim Young:                   So, you, you know at that point I backed off and, uh, waited.

Jad Abumrad:               Waited for the whale to settle down.

James Moskito:             She was physically exhausted.

Jad Abumrad:               Which she did, and then they both swim back. James goes to the tail and Tim, up to the whale's head.

Tim Young:                   You know I was there with a, a six inch dive knife.

Jad Abumrad:               Cutting out line right near her eye.

Tim Young:                   Which was the size of grapefruit.

Tim Young:                   And her eye was moving, keeping an eye on me.

Jad Abumrad:               Really.

Tim Young:                   Absolutely.

Jad Abumrad:               He would go left, her eye would go left. He'd go right, her eye would go right.

Tim Young:                   She was tracking me.

Jad Abumrad:               And all the while they're just cutting as much rope as they can.

James Moskito:             You really had to saw at it. It was very strong, very tight. Sometimes I'd cut a rope, and it would be a loose rope and all of a sudden something else would tighten up. Which was the one rope that would let it all free.

Jad Abumrad:               This whole process took hours. But finally James gets to the end of the this, at the tail sawing his way through that big clump of line. And he realizes at a certain point that to cut through line.

James Moskito:             I'm going to have to stab the whale to get my knife underneath the rope.

Jad Abumrad:               Ah.

James Moskito:             It was that tight though. I, uh, jabbed my knife into the whale's tale, and pulled the rope and then cut it.

Jad Abumrad:               And once the rope went (flipping sound).

James Moskito:             It was a very surreal moment looking down and seeing the 20 crab traps and buoys just disappear into the abyss. (music)

Jad Abumrad:               And just like that the whale was gone.

James Moskito:             I'm spinning around going where she go, where she go.

Jad Abumrad:               But as the water settled they realized they'd done it. They'd freed her.

James Moskito:             As soon as I came up I, I was like "Whew who."

Tim Young:                   Wow.

James Moskito:             Whooping it up, and yelling.

Tim Young:                   (hooting sounds) Unbelievable.

James Moskito:             I was screaming.

Tim Young:                   Can you imagine it.

Jad Abumrad:               Now here's where the story takes, uh, a pretty startling turn.

James Moskito:             Hi fiving.

Jad Abumrad:               In fact the whole reason we wanted to tell this story to begin with is for what happens next. So Tim and James and the other divers are in the water, they're celebrating, hi fiving, and then all of a sudden James looks down.

James Moskito:             Next thing I know I have this 50 ton whale coming right at me, and I'm thinking "Oh my God. Stop, I just saved you."

Jad Abumrad:               Wait so this whale is coming at you from below, like Jaws.

James Moskito:             Yeah, she's rising up towards me.

Tim Young:                   Oh God.

James Moskito:             And I'm just thinking this is going to hurt, and...

Jad Abumrad:               And...

James Moskito:             And, uh when she was only inches away from my chest... She stopped. And pushed me on the chest backwards, and then released me, and then kind of pushed again, and then release, and pushed again (music), and again.

Jad Abumrad:               Wow.

James Moskito:             And then she swam up right next to me, puts her head up above the water so that her eye was above the water, and then came up and looked directly at me.

Jad Abumrad:               And for what felt like 30 seconds he says she just stared at him.

James Moskito:             The pupil didn't move around. She wasn't looking for anything else. She was just looking at me.

James Moskito:             You're in the presence of something that great. It makes you feel small.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah.

James Moskito:             It, it really was a, a very emotional feeling. You know I wasn't quite sure what to make out of it, make of it.

Jad Abumrad:               But then he says she went off to the next diver.

James Moskito:             And did the same thing.

Tim Young:                   I, I remembered distinctly I was 18 inches away from her eye, and she just looked at me and let me touch her, and then swam off.

James Moskito:             And then she went off to the next diver and did the same thing, and the next person and did the same thing.

Jad Abumrad:               One by one.

James Moskito:             Coming up right next to him. Looking at him really good, you know inches away, eyeballing him.

Holly Drewyard:            She swam around every diver.

Mick Menago:               All the guys got it.

Holly Drewyard:            So it was about dusk, um, the water was glass flat. I was sitting at the helm of the boat just in awe. And they had to leave the whale, she didn't want to leave them.

Jad Abumrad:               Now there's a real question here. What exactly was that whale doing, or saying? Was she saying anything? If you ask James or Tim, or Mick, or any of the other divers that were in the water that day they'll tell you.

Tim Young:                   I felt this whale was really thanking us.

James Moskito:             I know it sounds crazy, but I could see the look in her eye. This mammal, this, this 50 ton mammal was literally saying thanks. Thanks for helping me out. And you know I'll, I'll bring that to my grave knowing the gratification that I felt. (organ music)

Robert Krulwich:           Hmm. Wow.

Jad Abumrad:               So what do you think? I mean here's the question really.

Robert Krulwich:           Uh huh.

Jad Abumrad:               Was that whale saying thank you?

Robert Krulwich:           Was the whale saying... Well I think the whale was saying something. I mean a whale, if she was just freed of her ropes, I would think she would just go off and say "Whew, I'm free." So the fact that she would-

Jad Abumrad:               That she hung around.

Robert Krulwich:           And make these specific=

Jad Abumrad:               Circle, eyeballs.

Robert Krulwich:           Visits. Like I don't know I feel that she, there's something intentional about that. She didn't leave anyone out, right?

Jad Abumrad:               No, she-

Robert Krulwich:           She went to everybody.

Jad Abumrad:               In fact according to one of the guys one the boat she actually went to the boats and did the same thing to the boats.

Robert Krulwich:           She said thank you to the boats.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah.

Robert Krulwich:           Hmm, well then. So she was looking at the people, but she also thought that the craft was somebody she should say thank you, or say deal with.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah.

Robert Krulwich:           So maybe she was just psyched, maybe she was just, uh... I really don't know what she. I mean I don't, I don't feel completely comfortable just saying... Of course, I know what I want to feel.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, me too.

Robert Krulwich:           But let's just try to straighten up for second. We have a guy named Clive Wynn. He teaches at the university...

Clive Wynn:                  Hello.

Robert Krulwich:           Hey.

Jad Abumrad:               Oh, hi is this Mr. Clive Wynn.

Clive Wynn:                  Yeah this is Clive Wynn.

Jad Abumrad:               Hi.

Robert Krulwich:           Uh. Clive is with the psychology department at the University of Florida.

Clive Wynn:                  Who am I talking... Who's this?

Jad Abumrad:               This is Jad from Radiolab in-

Clive Wynn:                  Right, hi Jad.

Jad Abumrad:               Clive also happens to be an expert on animal psychology.

Robert Krulwich:           Hi, and this is Robert also. Um...

Clive Wynn:                  Hi Robert.

Robert Krulwich:           Can you hear us pretty well?

Clive Wynn:                  I can hear you pretty well. I'm, I'm wondering how well I'm going to distinguish your voices.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs) Oh, no need to do that.

Robert Krulwich:           Treat us as a unitary figure.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah.

Clive Wynn:                  (laughs) Okay.

Robert Krulwich:           But so let me, let me begin, now this is Robert talking.

Clive Wynn:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Krulwich:           We'll tell you a story, and we want to know what you think of the story?

Robert Krulwich:           So once upon a time and not too long ago.

Jad Abumrad:               Alright we're going to fast forward a bit. Because we ran Clive through the entire whale story, front to back.

Robert Krulwich:           So my question to you is. If a diver said to you this whale said thank you to me. What would you say?

Clive Wynn:                  Well I would be in a difficult situation, because I don't doubt that what these people experienced was a very moving moment with that whale, but the problem is I just don't speak whale, so-

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Clive Wynn:                  I don't know what thank you looks like in whale. If I'm going to be a cynic about it I would say "Well the whale has been trapped for I believe over a day, and may just be disoriented."

Robert Krulwich:           Well this was, this was parking herself with one individual and the moving to the next. That's not a distracted, that looks like its got some intention.

Clive Wynn:                  It shows some interest in the individuals. I'll give you that. But how do we, how do we get from that, to deducing that the whale is trying to express things.

Jad Abumrad:               But what do you mean? Its just-

Clive Wynn:                  Let's play a different example. Let's oppose that you found a bear in the woods that was caught up in some netting that ended up in the woods. And you work for hours to free the bear, and then the bear eats you. Does that mean, that the, the, the bears are an ungrateful species of animal.

Jad Abumrad:               Yes. (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               No, I don't truly believe that.

Clive Wynn:                  Right, well so, so I mean it would make as much sense to escribe ingratitude to the bear, and it does to escribe gratitude to the whale. I just don't think that's a useful way of trying to understand animals.

Clive Wynn:                  And, I think it, ultimately it demeans them, because it means that instead of living in a world that's full of a diversity of wonderful creatures, each with its own ways of relating to other members of its own species and other members of other species. We say well we don't live in a world like that. We live in a world that's basically a world of human beings. It doesn't matter some of these human beings have fur suits on.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Clive Wynn:                  Some of these human beings weigh hundreds of tons, and live under the ocean, and can hold their breath for a very long time. None of that really matters ultimately they're all basically like us, and I just don't find that satisfying.

Robert Krulwich:           Mm. Are you saying that you don't know if there's a possibility of sharing, or that you don't think that there's a possibility of sharing at a emotional level between two species?

Clive Wynn:                  Um, I don't doubt that there is the possibility of sharing between two species. I mean you, I see it with dogs all the time. But I think it would be a mistake if we thought that the love we feel for our dogs, is the same feeling that the dog has back to us. It, it has different qualities, and it's very-

Robert Krulwich:           But when you pet your dog, and it wags its tail, and it seems happy to see you.

Clive Wynn:                  Yeah.

Robert Krulwich:           Do you just like not trust that?

Clive Wynn:                  Well okay so let me make clear that I wear two hats. When I'm talking about a dog particularly a pet of my own. I'm wearing... I have two possible hats I can wear, and one is that when the dog pants back at me I just hug the dog, and you know let him kiss me, and that's, that's life with a dog.

Clive Wynn:                  But if I'm, if I'm now wearing my scientific hat, I'm getting my blanket as wet as I possibly can.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Clive Wynn:                  Then I ask myself "What do these behaviors mean among dogs." (dog barks/girls laughing)

Clive Wynn:                  There's a, a beautiful study that came out recently from Alexander Horowitz.

  1. Horowitz: Uh, I'm Alexandra Horowitz, and I study dog cognition.

Jad Abumrad:               Where do we find her?

Clive Wynn:                  She's... Well she's around the corner from you. She's at Barnard College.

Jad Abumrad:               So we sent our producers Soren Wheeler.

Soren Wheeler:             Yo. That's me.

Jad Abumrad:               To meet her, and he ended up hanging out with her, and her dog [Finnegan 00:18:57].

Soren Wheeler:             Yeah. Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               In a park. (dog barking)

  1. Horowitz: Oh, oh, good snuffle. That's a nice snuffle. You want to snuffle with Mike.

Clive Wynn:                  She did this beautiful experiment that shows that, um, when people think their dog is looking guilty.

  1. Horowitz: Ears back, eyes lowered, tail between the legs.

Clive Wynn:                  Actually the dog is just being submissive.

Soren Wheeler:             So here's what she did. She tracked down a bunch of dog owners.

  1. Horowitz: Posted on Craigslist, and put out posters.

Soren Wheeler:             And she found a bunch of owners who believe that like most dog owners do that their dog feel guilt.

  1. Horowitz: Yes my dog feels guilty when he's done something wrong.

Soren Wheeler:             And then she set up a situation where all of the dog owners had to scold their dogs. Because, you know they had been told that their dogs did something bad, but the trick of the experiment is that only half the dogs had done something wrong.

Clive Wynn:                  Half the dogs had actually been naughty, and half the dogs had not been naughty. But then she...

  1. Horowitz: Misinformed the owners.

Clive Wynn:                  Lied to half of the owners.

  1. Horowitz: So we lied to the owners.

Soren Wheeler:             So even the owners whose dogs hadn't been bad, thought their dogs had been bad. So everybody scolded their dog.

  1. Horowitz: Almost everyone did this the same way, which was to say no loudly to their dogs, and maybe put their hands on their hip and just express just a quiver.

Soren Wheeler:             No, and Finnegan.

  1. Horowitz: Yes, Finnegan.

Soren Wheeler:             I can't believe you ate.

  1. Horowitz: Finnegan. Oh. It's okay.

Soren Wheeler:             No this is true. See Finnegan just made the look, even though he hadn't done anything wrong. And that's essentially what she found. Even the non-guilty dogs made the guilty look.

Clive Wynn:                  It didn't matter whether the dog had transgressed or not. All that mattered was whether it was being chastised by its owner.

Robert Krulwich:           So bad dog, bad dog.

Clive Wynn:                  Right.

Robert Krulwich:           That creates the look, not the deed.

Clive Wynn:                  That's exactly right.

Jad Abumrad:               But, but for me the pivotal question here is not whether or not they all had the look, but what's attached to that look. What feeling in the dog is attached to that guilty look. Maybe the dogs who were falsely accused still felt bad.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Clive Wynn:                  (laughs). Well maybe they did. Maybe they did, and maybe there are angels on top of this control console here.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs) (music) (barking/howling)

Jad Abumrad:               I thought it was a perfectly valid question.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, we should thank, uh, Alexander Horowitz, her latest book is called Inside of a Dock. (music/howling)

Robert Krulwich:           And I, before we end this section, have we resolved the question of what was that whale doing with those people. Was she saying thank you or no?

Jad Abumrad:               No, and do we ever resolve any questions at all.

Robert Krulwich:           Well we try. We get a little closer, and we kind of just go- (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               No, we have not resolved it.

Robert Krulwich:           So we will try harder.

Jad Abumrad:               But, but, but, but in our next section a mere 70 seconds away we will try very hard to actually get scientific about it.

Robert Krulwich:           Good.

Tim Young:                   Hi this Tim Young out in California, uh, on my first take of reading the Radiolab credits. So here it goes.

Tim Young:                   Radiolab is funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

Clive Wynn:                  Hi, this is Clive Wynn. Radiolab is produced by WNYC, and distributed by NPR.

Jad Abumrad:               Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich:           And, I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad:               This is Radiolab. Today is our...

Robert Krulwich:           Animal minds. Animal minds.

Jad Abumrad:               Right.

Robert Krulwich:           Do, do, can, can one animal really know what's going on in another animal's head?

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, like really know.

Robert Krulwich:           Really know.

Jad Abumrad:               Thanks for meeting us.

Jad Abumrad:               So we were thinking about that whale story that we heard before the break.

Robert Krulwich:           Yep.

Jad Abumrad:               You know where the divers meet the whale, and they were sure the whale was sayings thanks-

James Moskito:             Literally saying thanks. Thanks for helping me out.

Jad Abumrad:               Okay that is their opinion, but we wanted to know like what can you actually scientifically say about that kind of exchange. And that question led us.

Speaker 23:                  Introduce yourself.

Jad Abumrad:               To this guy.

Patrick H.:                     Uh, my name is Patrick [Hoff 00:22:56]. I am a neuroscientist at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Robert Krulwich:           Although, actually the truth is he's really from some place like Geneva. He's a Swiss from the French part of Switzerland.

Jad Abumrad:               Right. Bang out, we came to him because he may have found a way of separating the animals. Of knowing which animals can genuinely have human emotions, and which can't.

Patrick H.:                     It, it, it starts, it starts in 1995. We were studying the anatomy of the human cingulate cortex.

Jad Abumrad:               That's part of the brain that's right here. Kind of between your eyes, but down.

Patrick H.:                     And, uh, a student in my [Esther Chimski 00:23:31].

Jad Abumrad:               She was looking at some brains, and she saw...

Robert Krulwich:           Something odd.

Patrick H.:                     This very slender [inaudible 00:23:38] neuron. I've never seen a neuron like that. Maybe it's abnormal, it's pathological.

Jad Abumrad:               Just to be sure she got some slides of other human brains, looked in the same place.

Patrick H.:                     We-

Jad Abumrad:               And there it was again.

Patrick H.:                     Started to see them in-

Robert Krulwich:           And again.

Patrick H.:                     And we were very pleased. So okay we have discovered a new cell type. (horns) Whew, something that is unique to human.

Jad Abumrad:               But then they went to the library and discovered that some guy...

Patrick H.:                     Who's name is [Constantin von Economo 00:24:09].

Robert Krulwich:           Costanto.

Patrick H.:                     Constantin von Economo.

Jad Abumrad:               This Romanian guy.

Robert Krulwich:           Von Economo.

Jad Abumrad:               He'd seen these cells 70 years ago.

Robert Krulwich:           And he named them spindle cells.

Jad Abumrad:               Because of their shape. Oh, that must have been a very sad day for Esther.

Patrick H.:                     No, no, no.

Jad Abumrad:               Because now they believe that these little brains cells may be a key to how humans relate to one another. And whether or not other creatures can relate to us in the same way.

Robert Krulwich:           Right.

Jad Abumrad:               Is it possible to, for us to see a spindle cell.

Patrick H.:                     Yeah, we can, we can show spindle cells.

Robert Krulwich:           Patrick Hoff took us down the hall.

Jad Abumrad:               Yep.

Robert Krulwich:           Jad went first, and parked him in front of a big microscope.

Patrick H.:                     Here find it again. Look at it.

Jad Abumrad:               Will it be obvious to me-

Patrick H.:                     Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               From looking at is.

Patrick H.:                     Crossing the middle of the field you can see a series tall slender...

Jad Abumrad:               It's making me dizzy a little bit.

Patrick H.:                     We have one, two, three, four, five.

Jad Abumrad:               Is that the spindles?

Patrick H.:                     Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               Oh, they're everywhere.

Patrick H.:                     Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               Oh. You want to see them?

Robert Krulwich:           What do you mean I want to see them? I mean yeah. Here you hold the mic.

Robert Krulwich:           Oh, yeah there's a whole troop of them, and they're long, and skinny, and purple.

Jad Abumrad:               It's funny because the normal brain cells which you can also see in there are like dot, dot, dot, but these ones are (sounds). Like little purple bananas.

Robert Krulwich:           Like a team of purple bananas.

Jad Abumrad:               And the thing that makes these cells so interesting...

Robert Krulwich:           All seeming to head off in this direction.

Patrick H.:                     Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               According to Patrick Hoff is that you know in the normal brain cells they just talk to their neighbors, but these because they're so long...

Robert Krulwich:           They seem to be yelling across a big, uh, distance.

Patrick H.:                     Exactly. We know that these cells send an action at some distance. (Hello sound)

Robert Krulwich:           It's across the valley.

Patrick H.:                     Yeah, it's across the valley, exactly. It's projecting.

Jad Abumrad:               But projecting what, and from where to where? Well Patrick Hoff doesn't entirely know, but he says he can make a pretty good guess based on... Well if you look at a microscope you do notice some things.

Patrick H.:                     Yeah, yeah so here, here on the top of the spindle points to all surface of the brain.

Jad Abumrad:               The top he says seems to shoot up, or it's those more modern parts of the brain that are involved.

Patrick H.:                     High order cognition.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, language, abstract thinking. Whereas the bottom of the spindle seems to shoot, found deep down.

Patrick H.:                     Lower centers in, in the brain.

Jad Abumrad:               Towards those older parts of our brain that involve feelings emotions, instinct. So, perhaps this is what Patrick Hoff thinks. That these cells are a kind of network, a really important one that allows the different parts of our inner selves to connect.

Jad Abumrad:               Like you've got the parts of us down here that feel things can now communicate with the parts of us up here that think things. And this is an oversimplification of course, but the point, the larger point is that this is exactly what happens when you look into the eyes of another human being.

Jad Abumrad:               Because it begins with a kind of thought. Your eyes seem sad, but then that thought within you travels a great distance and connects with the feeling of sadness, so that you feel sad too.

Patrick H.:                     Yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               I mean it's the basis of kind of empathy.

Patrick H.:                     Exactly, exactly. You know I, I see you happy you know, so, so that I feel good about it.

Jad Abumrad:               You know and consider those times I mean not just empathy where like your thoughts and feelings are in conflict, and they've got to really talk to one another.

Robert Krulwich:           Like for example when you get in front of me at the microphone yet again.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           And I hate you, but I know that I have to work with you, so I, I, I sit on that feeling. I just sit on my... It's going down to the bottom of my brain, but I say take a nap.

Jad Abumrad:               See that's the best part of your spindle situation, is that it's not just that thoughts connect to feelings, but those thoughts can sometimes suppress feelings.

Jonah Lehrer:                Yeah I, you know I think that's the idea is that humans in social interactions can't rely on these hard wired emotions in the same way other animals might be able to.

Jad Abumrad:               That's Jonah Lehrer, science writer.

Jonah Lehrer:                Um, you know we can't like a dog just hump every other dog and see what happens.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jonah Lehrer:                We've, we've, we've got to flirt and be funny, and you know buy a couple of drinks.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Jonah Lehrer:                But, but that, that was... You guys have to cut that because I don't want hate mail from-

Robert Krulwich:           I am so astonished.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Jonah Lehrer:                Well I was like wow-

Robert Krulwich:           We've got to use that Jad.

Jonah Lehrer:                Um, I just, I just turned into a frat boy. So (laughs) but the point being that our social interactions are very complicated, and that, and that we can't rely... It's much tougher for humans to rely on simply these hard wired, primitive instincts.

Jonah Lehrer:                You know so the job of spindle cells is to simple broadcast (beep sound) content to the rest of the brain.

Jad Abumrad:               Because without our whole brain involved we'd never able to navigate the social world, and make any kind of connection.

Robert Krulwich:           Right. So if spindle cells then allow us to talk gently and emotionally to one another, the questions is, this is the question for the hour. What about intra-species. Is it intra or inter.

Jad Abumrad:               Intra.

Robert Krulwich:           To look within.

Jad Abumrad:               Intranet.

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah, that's inside.

Jad Abumrad:               I think a cross species is what you mean.

Robert Krulwich:           Does any other animal have spindle cells.

Jad Abumrad:               And as it happens...

Patrick H.:                     So, where I'm taking you to my cold room.

Jad Abumrad:               Just down the hall from his office Professor Hoff has a freezer.

Patrick H.:                     Uh, where I store the specimens.

Jad Abumrad:               This is a very, very big door too.

Patrick H.:                     So-

Jad Abumrad:               Full of brains.

Patrick H.:                     Yes, so it's going to get really cooler here. (music)

Jad Abumrad:               All different kinds.

Patrick H.:                     We have brains of all your species, the cetacean are over there. We have the great apes around here.

Robert Krulwich:           This is the whale wall.

Patrick H.:                     That's the whale wall. Yeah-

Jad Abumrad:               He's got dozens and dozens of brains in buckets, and in jars, and he keeps them all organized. Uh, where each category of species has its own shelf. (music)

Patrick H.:                     You have more apes down there with gorillas and orangutans.

Robert Krulwich:           Uh.

Patrick H.:                     Whew.

Robert Krulwich:           It was really cold in there.

Jad Abumrad:               So what they did was they took a bunch of those brains off the shelf, and walked them down the hall to the lab, and put little pieces of them under a microscope. They didn't expect to find any of those [bizarro 00:30:17] neurons in any of these other creatures, because he was pretty sure.

Patrick H.:                     This is something that is unique to human.

Jad Abumrad:               But...

Patrick H.:                     One day we were looking at the brain of the humpback whale, and we stiff found spindle cells, plenty of spindle cells.

Robert Krulwich:           Oh, so what was that, did you, were you surprised?

Patrick H.:                     And I was there, and said okay this is fascinating.

Robert Krulwich:           You weren't expecting that?

Patrick H.:                     I was not at all expecting that.

Jad Abumrad:               But on the other hand...

Patrick H.:                     Here we have the, the humpback whale which is a very social animal. They, they, they form clans, they, they communicate. The males have a song. (whale sounds) They hunt together, they develop hunting strategies, which requires perfect coordination of many whales, so they have to act together to do that.

Jad Abumrad:               Now if acting together is the key, you know in having complex social structures, well then these things shouldn't just be limited to whales. And in fact over the years Hoff and other scientist have found spindle cells in chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, gorillas, which begs the question.

Jad Abumrad:               Like if we want to have an experience with another creature, and not just at the zoo, but a real shared experience. Do those creatures need to have these things? Do you think the existence of spindle cells creates more of a possibility of having that cross species sharing moment?

Patrick H.:                     I think so. If we assume that these cells and have such an influence on, uh, the sociability of species. It is very likely that you would, uh, experience something of that kind with a species that has them. I doubt you would get a very good experience if you were trying to do this with a hyena.

Jonah Lehrer:                So maybe what we see when we look into, you know these sad eyes of a blue whale, or, or when we look into, you know the eyes of an elephant, um, cradling a baby elephant, which are just the cutest things on earth. Maybe what we recognize is, is, is that same flavor of emotion, that same inner life for feeling. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, maybe that inner life requires spindle cells. (music)

Robert Krulwich:           But how big is that maybe? I mean it sounds like a really maybe, maybe.

Jonah Lehrer:                I mean you know as some point this is all just a... I think this is still very theoretical.

Robert Krulwich:           And in fact if you ask people, like Clive Wynn the fellow who, who, who poo-pooed our, our whale thank you from before.

Jad Abumrad:               Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robert Krulwich:           Ask Clive, like could you look at animal and find something in the animal that says yep if he has that, he's got feeling.

Clive Wynn:                  Well wrong. I don't for a moment imagine that there's going to be a type of nerve cell or a type of structure in the brain which is going to be such an asset test of whether an animal has a particular psychological capacity. That we can then find that kind of neuron and say well now we know. Without having to look at the behavior of the animal, now we know that this species has this or that psychological ability.

Jad Abumrad:               Well let me ask a question a different way. I mean do you think spindle cells, or no spindle cells, let's just toss them out for a second. Do you think there are a category of creatures that are more likely to have empathic experiences with us? Would you draw lines between beings?

Clive Wynn:                  Well the thing I would, the thing I would emphasize if we're looking for empathy between, uh, different species, is there, um, developmental experiences.

Robert Krulwich:           To make his point Clive told us about this experiment. He says let's take a chip with all the spindle cells inside the chimp brain in there. Put the chimp in a room, and in front of the chimp let's put two cups face down.

Robert Krulwich:           Now one of the cups has a grape, something delicious under it, and the chimp doesn't know where the grape is. It could be under cup A or cup B. So what you the experimenter do is you simply point to the cup that has the grape. Like that's the one, that one right there.

Clive Wynn:                  And all the animal has to do is to go to the cup that's pointed to. It seems simple enough.

Robert Krulwich:           But chimps Clive says chimps...

Clive Wynn:                  Find this stunningly difficult to understand.

Robert Krulwich:           Get this wrong.

Jad Abumrad:               What do you mean?

Robert Krulwich:           I mean they just look at you pointing, and they look at you pointing, and they look, and you're pointing, and they just go what.

Clive Wynn:                  Whereas dogs...

Robert Krulwich:           Who don't have spindle cells.

Clive Wynn:                  Most pet dogs get this from the get go.

Jad Abumrad:               The dogs can do this and chimps can't?

Clive Wynn:                  Yeah, yeah, yeah. They quite spontaneously recognized that you should go where, where they point.

Robert Krulwich:           And Clive says the explanation here is not that dogs have some special cell in their brain. It's simply because...

Clive Wynn:                  Because they grow up in our households.

Robert Krulwich:           They grow up with us.

Clive Wynn:                  Right.

Jad Abumrad:               Huh.

Robert Krulwich:           To test this idea he did this same study.

Jad Abumrad:               The pointing one.

Robert Krulwich:           Yep. Except this time with some wolves.

Clive Wynn:                  Because wolves are the animals from which dogs are descended, but they haven't lived in human households obviously.

Robert Krulwich:           And normally like the chimps wolves totally screw up the pointing test.

Clive Wynn:                  But we've done some tests on some wolves that were hand reared by human beings, and are very friendly to human beings, and we find that those wolves behave just like the dogs. That they are just as good at following the human pointing to find the food.

Jad Abumrad:               Really? Did you have to train them, or?

Clive Wynn:                  No we did not train them.

Jad Abumrad:               They just picked it up?

Clive Wynn:                  Well they just picked it up. But these are exceptional wolves in so far as they were reared by human beings. They were bottled fed when they were wee babies.

Jad Abumrad:               Ah.

Robert Krulwich:           Ah.

Clive Wynn:                  Because there are things that go on earlier in our development that are crucial, and that included learning who are your, who are your kind. What the, who am I? What am I? And you learn that in a critical period in your early life by looking around you and seeing who you're interacting with. Pretty much every dog you might meet has learned to accept humans as social companions, and that's because it was reared in a human home, and because evolution has prepared it with a relatively slow development so that it's pretty easy to tame a dog.

Clive Wynn:                  The wolf on the other hand it goes through its childhood, and adolescence in the blink of an eye, in the course of just a handful of weeks. And, so, it's actually extremely difficult to successfully hand rear a wolf, because you have so little time available to you. And you have to invest 24 hours a day, seven days a week during that brief period that a wolf is open to the possibility of learning who its companions might be.

Jad Abumrad:               That's really interesting. You know one, one of the pieces of the interpretation that I find intriguing, and I want to, I want to run by you, is that when-

Robert Krulwich:           Ooh, that's so interesting. I'm now sitting here thinking-

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           Boy if I could raise a whale with a baby bottle, then I would know whether the whale was saying thank you to me because I would've learned... It's not like I have to learn whale, but whale would've learned human.

Clive Wynn:                  Well that's right. I mean of course this is completely hypothetical. The whale is a really bad example to choose.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Clive Wynn:                  But my guess would be if you bottle fed a whale, you would get a whale that might plausibly do something like a behavior that expresses thanks.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs) That is such a hard mental image to conjure.

Clive Wynn:                  Well that's right, that's right.

Jad Abumrad:               Robert bottle feeding a whale.

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah, well because we have to keep rising to the surface for 21 years to breathe.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           Before I actually get to the experiment.

Clive Wynn:                  Yes, there a number of draw backs to that experiment.

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah. (music)

Jad Abumrad:               Radiolab will continue in a moment.

Micha:                          My name is [Micha Toi 00:37:55] a Radiolab listener in Singapore.

Micha:                          Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation, and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. For more information about Sloan go to

Jad Abumrad:               Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich:           I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abumrad:               This is Radiolab. Today, uh, kind of a hard topic to describe. We're calling it, um, animal minds, animal minds.

Robert Krulwich:           Or maybe the better way to say this is minds other than our own.

Jad Abumrad:               Which would be the animals, no?

Robert Krulwich:           That's the animals.

Jad Abumrad:               We're animals though. Yeah you're right.

Robert Krulwich:           No, yeah.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah you're right.

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah, so we live with other... Yeah so we live with... We're having enough trouble just talking to each other. (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           But imagine if I were trying, if you were a Labrador.

Jad Abumrad:               That'd be tough.

Robert Krulwich:           See then we'd have a problem. Or a whale.

Jad Abumrad:               No, maybe we wouldn't. That's kind of what we're looking at. How much can you really share with, you know a Labrador or a whale.

Robert Krulwich:           Right, and we're not solving this problem in this show at all.

Jad Abumrad:               No.

Robert Krulwich:           But maybe we can do this. Maybe instead of talking to scientist about other minds, maybe we should talk to, um...

Jad Abumrad:               A writer.

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah.

Speaker 27:                  Paul can you hear me? Paul can you hear? Paul, oh Paul. Paul? Paul?

Robert Krulwich:           The writer we chose to look for you may now know was named Paul.

Speaker 27:                  Okay stand by.

Robert Krulwich:           Put Paul through.

Speaker 27:                  I'm not hearing anything.

Robert Krulwich:           He's the author of any number of travel books, novels.

Jad Abumrad:               Didn't he win a big prize.

Robert Krulwich:           I'm sure.

Paul Theroux:               Yes. Is that Jad?

Jad Abumrad:               Yes, hi.

Paul Theroux:               J- A- D-.

Jad Abumrad:               That's me. Like a Pulitzer or one of the, one of the big ones.

Paul Theroux:               Okay.

Robert Krulwich:           No, he didn't win a Pulitzer, but he, he won the prize of my heart when he wrote the Patagonian Express.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Paul Theroux:               Oh, so you're tapping. Okay great.

Jad Abumrad:               Yes.

Robert Krulwich:           Yes.

Jad Abumrad:               Anyhow, uh, Paul Theroux travels all around the world writing about all kinds of things. But the reason we called him is for something that actually happened in his backyard.

Robert Krulwich:           Which luckily for him happens to be in the state of Hawaii.

Paul Theroux:               I own, uh, seven acres on a slope, a west facing slope on the north shore of Oahu.

Robert Krulwich:           Oh.

Paul Theroux:               And I had very, very long grass. And someone said "oh, I know what you need are some geese. They'll take care of that grass.", so I got a couple.

Robert Krulwich:           And you decided not to go to the hardware store and buy a lawn mower. You decided to buy two animate birds.

Paul Theroux:               That's right. I would have need a really, really serious industrial mower. Instead, I got two non industrial geese. (music) Well I actually got three, two ganders and a goose, and a strange thing happened. One of the ganders imprinted on me.

Jad Abumrad:               So what does that mean?

Robert Krulwich:           So it means the baby chic boy looked at you-

Paul Theroux:               Yes.

Robert Krulwich:           And, and-

Paul Theroux:               The first moving thing they see is the mother figure. This goose became very attached, very protective. It would sit in my lap, when another goose came up it would peck at them. It was both protective and attentive. (horns)

Robert Krulwich:           But as the gander grew up strange things began to happen.

Paul Theroux:               First it became detached from me, then aggressive toward me, and then needed me. It was very strange, and it made me think I want to get some more geese, and I ant to read more about them, and then, and then watch them.

Robert Krulwich:           So he, well he asked friends, and friends said to him “Look if you want to know everything that's important to know about geese you have to read E.B. White.”

Paul Theroux:               Most people mention E.B. White when they talk about geese, and of course I know and love E.B. White.

Robert Krulwich:           And if you're not a martian you probably love E.B. White too.

Jad Abumrad:               Well, you, I mean. What do you mean? People it's possible-

Robert Krulwich:           How many people have read Stuart Little, or how many people have read Charlotte's Web.

Jad Abumrad:               It's true.

Robert Krulwich:           And if you don't love the children's fiction, he certainly one of the great, greatest of all America essayist.

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, see that's the point. He's one of the great American writers. He actually, uh, wrote the Bible for writing.

Robert Krulwich:           The Elements of Style.

Jad Abumrad:               The Elements of Style.

Robert Krulwich:           By, uh, Strunk.

Jad Abumrad:               Which is still the bible for writing weirdly, and it was written like 50 years ago.

Robert Krulwich:           So when people point to anything by E.B. White, you point seriously.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           And in this case very late in life after you moved, uh, up to a cabin in, in Maine. He was in his 70s, and this particular essay we're going to talk about is called very simply...

Paul Theroux:               The Geese.

Robert Krulwich:           The Geese, Allen Cove, July 9th, 1971.

Robert Krulwich:           I have had a pair of elderly gray geese, a goose and a gander living on this place for a number of years, and they have been my friends. (geese) So Paul Theroux opened the essay fully expecting to learn all about geese. But then he kept running across these little phrases, and adjectives that made him cringe.

Paul Theroux:               You know he talks about a gosling that grows into, I'm quoting now.

Robert Krulwich:           A real dandy.

Paul Theroux:               A real dandy.

Robert Krulwich:           Full of pompous thoughts and surly gestures.

Paul Theroux:               Pompous thoughts and surly gestures. You know- (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               I mean come on. I mean doesn't that make the goose a little bit more, um, easy to relate to.

Paul Theroux:               Alright take one word. Malice.

Robert Krulwich:           I could not tell whether the look in his eye was one of malice or affection.

Paul Theroux:               Malice, malice is a word you use for, you know Mussolini, or, uh, you know somebody else, not for, not for a goose.

Robert Krulwich:           But what's the sin in that? If a man who's a professional story teller, and one of the greatest ones says let me tell you about my geese, and then talks about them as though they were uncles, and aunts, and neighbors with moods that are distinctly human. So what.

Paul Theroux:               Well I suppose you could say so, or you could say but, but so what if he put them in, you know little Halloween costumes too, for that matter, so what.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Paul Theroux:               But I'm in the writing business, the writing business should be unsparing. He could be quite unsparing himself in his writing. You're giving (laugh) E.B. White too much license if you're saying it really doesn't matter. It does matter to me.

Robert Krulwich:           And the reason it matters says Paul Theroux. "Is that E.B. White got so attached to the idea of those geese as aging critters like himself." That he missed something deep and important about the geese.

Paul Theroux:               The elements of that behavior that is, that is pure goose.

Robert Krulwich:           Paul pointed to the end of the essay.

Robert Krulwich:           Suddenly I heard sounds of a rumble outside in the barnyard where the ganders were.

Robert Krulwich:           Where a formerly great gander gets unseated by a younger male goose as a big fight, lots of squawking, and the old gander loses. (music)

Robert Krulwich:           I watched as he threaded his way slowly down the narrow path between clumps of thistles and daisies. His head was barely visible above the grasses, but his broken spirit was plain to any eye. I felt very deeply his sorrow and his defeat.

Paul Theroux:               Wow, the defeated gander goes off. Well this isn't true at all. When a gander loses a battle he goes off, gets his strength back, and waits for a chance to attack again. That gander is going to come back and fight again.

Robert Krulwich:           So you're saying he got it wrong about the geese?

Paul Theroux:               Yes, of course. Of course. Here is a man who is solitary, he's a New Yorker who goes to Maine and becomes a gentleman farmer of a kind, and begins to relate to his geese, and then writes about them as though he's one of them. I know I'm not one of them.

Robert Krulwich:           But if you can't use words that are, you know very human and psychological words, and if you can't because you're not a goose have whatever it is that geese have on their insides, then what if you wanted to share something with a goose and I'd bet you, you do. Is there anyway in which you could honestly describe yourself as a friend of any of these geese?

Paul Theroux:               Yeah, I, I would you say, you know that, that this is a very good question. I, I had a very surly (laughs) to use an E.B. White word, a very, a very, um, rambunctious gander, and he got very sick. You know the thing is sitting on the ground just following its nest. I, I thought he was really going to die, and I nursed him back to health.

Paul Theroux:               I gave him a, an antibiotic with a turkey baster, and it took about three or four weeks. And the first thing he did when he was nursed back to health, was he got up on two legs and I came up with the turkey baster to give him one last drink, and he bit me.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Paul Theroux:               And I thought, um-

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               Where did he bite you?

Paul Theroux:               He bit my leg. Hard. And I thought okay he's back to health.

Jad Abumrad:               You didn't think ow how could you?

Paul Theroux:               Well I thought he, he's, he's healthy, he's healthy again, and he's behaving just as goose would.

Robert Krulwich:           Don't you see though that if the moment of true, of your true most goosy moment is a moment when you're with a goose that you help bites you, then you are out of this story in a fact.

Paul Theroux:               I absolutely agree with that. I, I... In, in all of this there's an implied, uh, loneliness. (geese) I'm not his friend, I'm not a feathered creature. I'm a human being among birds.

Robert Krulwich:           Although, curiously Paul Theroux does have an approach to communing with his geese. He takes a chair, puts it on the lawn, plops down in the chair, and disappears.

Paul Theroux:               You know my writing day ends in the early afternoon. I have lunch, and after lunch there's a long sunny period in the afternoon when I'm alone, I'm with the geese, and I sit around with them, and try to make out what they're doing among each other, and paying no particular attention to me. It's simply watching the world as it was. You're seeing creatures who are behaving as though cities don't exist, presidents don't exist, governments don't exist, roads don't exist.

Robert Krulwich:           Ah.

Paul Theroux:               As if it's before the fall.

Jad Abumrad:               Mm.

Paul Theroux:               As though it's the peaceable kingdom. Simply watching animals who are content doing their thing. Then you feel a bit like Adam. (geese/music)

  1. Horowitz: Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad, and Soren Wheeler, Michael Rafael, Ellen Horn.

Clive Wynn:                  And Lulu Miller. With help from [Addy Narrian 00:49:11], and Tim Howard.

  1. Horowitz: Special thanks to [Brianna Breen 00:49:12] and [Kelly Carmedie 00:49:13]. Apologies for betraying any names.

Jad Abumrad:               Wait a second. Stop, stop the machine. It just feels weird to end the show this way, with this lonely geese thing. So we're going to play for you one final story. It's kind of a continuation, uh, of Paul Theroux and his geese, except it involves a very different guy in a very different climate.

Jad Abumrad:               First of all who, what, who are you? What's your name?

Paul Nicklen:                 My name is [Paul Nicklen 00:49:37] and I'm a contributing photographer to National Geographic Magazine.

Jad Abumrad:               Paul Nicklen is basically National Geographic's arctic guy.

Paul Nicklen:                 Its, I've been pegged as their polar specialist.

Jad Abumrad:               In this particular tale involves his attempt to photograph one of the great arctic predators.

Paul Nicklen:                 The Leopard seal.

Jad Abumrad:               Leopard seal which by reputation is a very nasty creature.

Paul Nicklen:                 Preface to this story is...

Paul Nicklen:                 In 2003 tragically a scientist was actually killed, uh, Kirsty Brown was doing underwater research, and she was taken down by a leopard seal, and drowned.

Jad Abumrad:               Was she just yanked off the ice, or...

Paul Nicklen:                 She was swimming and it just came up and grabbed her.

Jad Abumrad:               Oh.

Paul Nicklen:                 And took her down to 300 feet.

Jad Abumrad:               None the less our story starts with Paul and his guide [Godan 00:50:14]. They're in a boat in the Arctic Ocean looking for seals.

Paul Nicklen:                 The first seal we encountered, I'd never seen a leopard seal before, and we, we came around in, into this bay where there was a penguin colony. And right away Godan who's seen many, many leopard seals, he said to me “You know bloody hell that's the biggest seal I've ever seen.” And she came up to boat with a penguin in her mouth, and she went underneath the boat and she started ramming the penguin underneath the whole of the boat. Lifting the bow out of the water, and that's when Godan looks to me and he says “Paul it's time for you to get in the water, yeah."

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Paul Nicklen:                 In his thick Swedish accent.

Jad Abumrad:               Wow were you freaking out?

Paul Nicklen:                 I had dry mouth, um, just from the nervousness. I was trembling, and you know I put my mask on, and slipped over in the 29 degree Fahrenheit water. And, uh, there she was, instantly right there. Massive, huge.

Jad Abumrad:               Well how huge?

Paul Nicklen:                 Probably over a 1,000 pounds.

Robert Krulwich:           Oh my God.

Paul Nicklen:                 12 feet long.

Paul Nicklen:                 She dropped her penguin, she came right over to me, and she opened up her mouth. And she engulfed the front of the camera, her canines were on top of my top to where below chin. You know I'm basically staring down her throat.

Jad Abumrad:               I can't believe you managed to take a picture of this. Because I'm looking at this picture, and these teeth are huge.

Paul Nicklen:                 The canines.

Jad Abumrad:               You know like massive.

Robert Krulwich:           So you were doing business at this moment?

Paul Nicklen:                 Yeah, I'm working at that point.

Jad Abumrad:               You can even see the textures of the seals tongue. Like she has these little fibers on them.

Paul Nicklen:                 Oh, it's 180 degree view, so you had to get that, that perspective I'm basically in the mouth to get that shot.

Robert Krulwich:           Wow, so then what happened?

Paul Nicklen:                 She backs off, looks at me, sniff my flipper, touched them with nose, poked me in bum, came up did this open mouth threat display again, and then she swims away.

Robert Krulwich:           Ooh.

Paul Nicklen:                 Wow, just, I was just getting ready to swim back to the zodiac, you know I've been in the water for quite a while, and I'm cold. And all of a sudden she shows up with a freshly caught live penguin chick in her mouth.

Robert Krulwich:           Huh.

Paul Nicklen:                 And I'm sitting there staring at her and she stops about 10 feet away from and she's got the penguin by the feet, and the penguin is flapping its flippers trying to get away. She lines the penguin up to face perfectly in my direction and then she lets it go. The penguin swam right by me and she chases off after it and grabs it, comes back and does this again, and again, and again.

Robert Krulwich:           Why?

Jad Abumrad:               Yeah, man what was she doing?

Paul Nicklen:                 At first, I couldn't figure out what was going on. I thought maybe she was having a hard time eating it, and then it dawned on me she was trying to feed me.

Robert Krulwich:           Where, uh, did you make any attempt during this period to say no thank you?

Paul Nicklen:                 No. Nope I'm so, in such disbelief at this point, I'm just trying to capture it.

Robert Krulwich:           Well didn't you feel compelled as a social human to just offer some kind of gestural explanation. I mean with me I would have made some look like come I don't eat that stuff or-

Jad Abumrad:               Or maybe it's like you, you take, you take the penguin at that point.

Paul Nicklen:                 Well I mean I couldn't catch him.

Jad Abumrad:               I mean when in Rome, you know.

Paul Nicklen:                 The penguin is swimming 15 miles and hour you know.

Jad Abumrad:               Oh, so you mean when she let's go, it just goes (speed sound).

Paul Nicklen:                 Like a bullet.

Robert Krulwich:           No, he's pathetic is what he's saying, is I'm a pathetic creature, I can't actually catch the thing.

Paul Nicklen:                 I'm thinking exposures, get the shot, keep shooting.

Robert Krulwich:           You're such a photo dude, you know.

Paul Nicklen:                 (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Paul Nicklen:                 Well I'm, I work for National Geographic.

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Paul Nicklen:                 I don't want to anthropomorphize too much, but as the penguin was swimming by this huge seal she looked over at me and I swear she had a look of disgust in her face.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Jad Abumrad:               (laughs)

Paul Nicklen:                 So, she goes off and gets another penguin, and this penguin now is quite weak and tired looking, so I think she's worn it down. She lets the penguin go, the penguin takes off. She grabs it, does that a couple of more times.

Jad Abumrad:               And you're still not eating the penguin.

Paul Nicklen:                 Right, next encounter was bringing me dead penguins. And sometimes she would just drop off a dead penguin right on top of the camera and she would just sit there with this dejected look on her face, staring at me.

Robert Krulwich:           (laughs)

Paul Nicklen:                 And then she went to the stage of flipping dead penguins on top of my head, and trying to force feed me these penguins. Telling me at this point, you know eat these damn penguins, I'm trying to feed you. And why won't you eat my penguins, eat the penguins.

Paul Nicklen:                 And then she would start to eat the penguins right in front of me, and show me how to eat them. She would rip them apart on the surface, get the skin off them, and she's shredding them in the water in front of me.

Jad Abumrad:               And, and how much time is passing here? I mean we're talking minutes, hours?

Paul Nicklen:                 This went on for four days.

Jad Abumrad:               Four days.

Robert Krulwich:           Four days. (laughs) Oh God.

Jad Abumrad:               And, and when you're in the water, you know day after day. What's happening for you at this point? Are you still just a guy with a camera, or...

Paul Nicklen:                 I mean I was starting to fall in love with this seal. It's just, uh, this animal that's just so intelligent and so, uh, powerful, and it can kill you in an instant, yet your... I mean-

Robert Krulwich:           But when you say you were in love, what, you were... Were you in love with the idea of this, or did you really like her?

Paul Nicklen:                 I really liked her. She was beautiful, she was big. She had this, this beautiful face, beautiful silver color to her. She kind of glowed underwater. I'm just so in love with this seal at this point. I'm not sleeping at night, I have a hard time eating. I just can't wait to see her. I can't. The first thing in the morning, you know the first sign of light I'm in that zodiac.

Paul Nicklen:                 And then on the fourth day is when, you know I was thinking okay maybe she's weary of me, and she's getting tired of me, so I'm just going to totally leave her alone. That's when I started going off and presenting myself to other seals who were swimming around the [recrein 00:55:24].

Paul Nicklen:                 And, I was in the water, and the same big female came up to me, and she started to do all these really beautiful ballet like moves. I'm photographing her, and looking at her, and all of a sudden she drops her penguin, she turns upside down, and she does this big guttural go, go, go, go, this big jarring noise that's vibrating my whole body. I can really feel it in my chest, it's so loud, and I'm thinking am I being attacked. She finally told me that she's sick of me and wants me off her feeding grounds.

Paul Nicklen:                 But, as soon as she did that another leopard seal shot out from right behind me. And so this leopard seal had snuck in behind me, and she did that noise to chase that seal away, a smaller seal. She chased the seal way, it too had a penguin. She grabbed its penguin and brought me that seal's penguin and dropped it off in front of me.

Jad Abumrad:               Wow.

Robert Krulwich:           Wow.

Jad Abumrad:               Wow.

Robert Krulwich:           You're a lucky guy. Wow.

Paul Nicklen:                 I mean I'm almost getting emotional reliving that. I mean it's very powerful.

Robert Krulwich:           Have you ever been in love with an animal quite this way before?

Paul Nicklen:                 Never. Never.

Jad Abumrad:               Have you every had an experience with, uh, with another human that rivals this?

Paul Nicklen:                 Perhaps when I was kid with my mom. Someone taking care of you, and feeling safe and nurtured, and protected, but I've never had that in, in my life as an adult.

Jad Abumrad:               It sounds, this is such an interesting species moment here.

Robert Krulwich:           Yeah, it sounds like you're doing something-

Jad Abumrad:               You're transgressing or something.

Robert Krulwich:           It sounds like you're stealing something from the Gods right here, right at this moment.

Paul Nicklen:                 I, I mean I don't know what words I can find to, to explain it.

Robert Krulwich:           Hmm.

Jad Abumrad:               Thank you so much.

Paul Nicklen:                 Thank you guys. (silence)