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8/10/10

Do Animals Commit Suicide?

"Forty years ago, Richard O'Barry watched Kathy, a dolphin in the 1960s television show Flipper, kill herself. Or so he says. She looked him in the eye, sank to the bottom of a steel tank and stopped breathing. The moment transformed the dolphin trainer into an animal-rights activist for life, and his role in The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about the dolphin-meat business in a small town in Japan, has transformed him into a celebrity.

' The suicide was what turned me around,' says O'Barry. ' The [animal entertainment] industry doesn't want people to think dolphins are capable of suicide, but these are self-aware creatures with a brain larger than a human brain. If life becomes so unbearable, they just don't take the next breath. It's suicide.'

Animal suicide may seem absurd, yet the concept is as old as philosophy. Aristotle told a story about a stallion that leaped into an abyss after realizing it was duped into mating with its mother, and the topic was discussed by early Christian theologians and Victorian academics. . . .

The Romans saw animal suicide as both natural and noble; an animal they commonly reported as suicidal was one they respected, the horse. . . .

In 1845 the Illustrated London News reported on a Newfoundland who had repeatedly tried to drown himself: ' The animal appeared to get exhausted, and by dint of keeping his head determinedly under water for a few minutes, succeeded at last in obtaining his object, for when taken out this time he was indeed dead.' . . . " More

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