Emotional Giants: Do Whales Cry?

do whales cry

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Whales are majestic ocean giants that have roamed the oceans of the earth for over 50 million years.

They’re sensitive souls that are highly intelligent sentient beings. Whales are deep thinkers that are capable of problem-solving, teamwork, and understanding.

But they’re also emotionally intelligent and capable of experiencing complex emotions just like you and me.

They feel sadness, grief, and frustration as well as joy and happiness. This brings up an interesting topic of discussion and a question that is often asked when discussing whales. “Do whales cry?”

NO, whales do not cry, not in the traditional sense anyway. But whales have tear glands near their eyes which secrete a greasy substance to keep their eyes lubricated, but they don’t cry from their eyes.

Can Whales Cry?

Unlike humans, whales DON’T have tear ducts that are used by humans and some other land animals to cry.

However, they do have tear glands near their eyes which secrete a greasy tear-like substance to lubricate their eyes as well as remove debris from around their eyes.

Although they don’t cry in the traditional sense as. you may expect, which involved leaking water from their eyes, they do cry in other ways.

So How Do Whales Cry?

Whales do vocalize their emotions in a number of ways such as whining or moaning when they feel sad or upset.

When a whale is upset it may produce whale songs that are lower in pitch to communicate its emotional state to others in the area.

They do this in a number of circumstances which may include losing a calf, being sick or injured as well feeling lonely.

A whale’s cry can sometimes be heard from thousands of miles away by other whales and may be mistaken for a mating call due to its deep sound.

do humpback whales cry
Image: Gregory Smith via Flickr

There’s still very little known about whales crying but it is known that the sounds whales create when they’re upset, sad, or grieving are similar to that of a human crying for the same reasons.

A whale’s communication isn’t as developed as our human language is, therefore, whale cries are even more crucial in communicating how the whale feels.

Communication in the whale world is incredibly important and they do so in a number of ways which include spy-hopping, lobtailing, fin-slapping, breaching, and charging.

These are all vital ways that whales can warn one another of a potential threat, food in the area, or as a playful act among other things.

The vocal side of whale communication is highly complex and we’re still after decades of research trying to understand more about how they communicate with one another.

It’s hoped that in the near future, researchers can gain a better understanding of the whale’s language so that we humans can use technology to have a fully intact conversation with whales.

How awesome would that be!

Do Whales Have Tears?

Whales DO NOT have tear ducts as they don’t need them, however, they do have glands near their eyes that help in keeping their eyes lubricated and free of debris.

A whale’s eyelid glands are essential in keeping their eyes moisturized and produce a thick greasy substance to do so.

The substance is thick enough so that whales don’t need to blink regularly and usually only close their eyes when they are about to sleep.

These “tears” are not used to express the whale’s emotional state and are instead solely used for protecting the eyes.

Blinking for the largest animals on earth is a surprisingly laborious task that burns precious calories that whales need to save for energy.

Are Whales Emotional?

It comes as a surprise to many that whales ARE HIGHLY emotional animals that experience a range of complex emotions similar to us humans.

Like people, whales experience joy, happiness, love, grief, sadness, upset, and many more emotions that have an impact on the whale.

These animals are very emotional, this can be observed simply by watching how a mother whale interacts with her calf.

humpback whale
Image: Robin Gwen Agarwal via Flickr

In some scenarios when a calf dies, mother whales will carry the calf with the pod for weeks, sacrificing their own well-being to bring the dead calf with them.

Whales go through a grieving process just like we humans do. Just as whales can feel major sadness, they can also experience pure joy and love, often expressed through breaching and fin-slapping.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed learning more about whale communication and now have a clear answer to your question “do whales cry?

Whales DO NOT cry in the sense that they express emotions from their eyes, but they do cry in a variety of other ways.

Whale crying is often expressed through vocal communication as well as body language, and we’re still learning more about this every year.

Researchers have spent decades deciphering whale language and we’re only now just starting to scratch the surface of what these ocean giants say to one another.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about whales today and I’ll see you in the next one.