Could a desire for career success be a reason for infanticide? That is the question posed by Seth Slater in Psychology Today.
Slater wrote about his time as a trainer of an Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin named Slooper, an energetic, exceptionally bright dolphin. Slater recounted, "Not only was Slooper a quick study who mastered complex choice paradigms with ease, she also displayed a willingness to stay on-task two- to three-times longer than even her most experienced aquatic co-workers."
Slater said that well-trained dolphins are often taught to respond positively to humans, but Slooper would shun contact with other dolphins in favor of humans. Her superstar intellect made her a perfect breeding choice by the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program.
"What was surprising was Slooper's reaction to her own calf in the hours and days after its birth," wrote Slater. "Although she allowed the calf to swim at her side, whenever it tried to nurse Slooper pivoted her belly away from the newborn, effectively preventing it from feeding. Dolphins are extremely social animals with strong maternal instincts. Slooper was highly intelligent, and she had seen calves nursed and cared for many times in the past. Why, then, was she starving her baby?"
Food wasn't an issue for Slooper. There were no predators for Slooper to compete with. "She was a Navy dolphin who dined on a never-ending supply of restaurant-quality fish delivered daily by human co-workers whose companionship she herself actively sought out," wrote Slater. "Slooper was, for all intents and purposes, a working gal with a reliable income from a job that provided a benefit package complete with medical, dental, and retirement plans."
Slater wondered if perhaps Slooper's unique career made her less desiring of raising her calf. Would it be the competition for praise or food? Slater compared the dolphin's behavior to humans.
"In a day and age when human families often depend upon dual incomes for survival - and when Xbox and iPhones too often function as surrogate parents - one has to wonder whether the search for security sometimes causes us to sacrifice our children," wrote Slater.
Animals eating or shunning their offspring is not a new discovery. PBS News Hour quoted Doug Mock, professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma as saying, "Animal parents have limited resources to dedicate to their offspring and if the baby is sick or weak, carnivores have been known to consume babies or abandon them. Cannibalism gives the mother the calories she needs to raise her healthy babies or get pregnant again."
According to Slater, Slooper's calf appeared healthy to a team of doctors, but he wondered if perhaps Slooper could sense something the doctors could not see. Dolphin biosonar is similar to an X-ray machine. The National Marine Mammal Association reports that dolphins can even "see" objects buried underneath the ocean floor. "If so, then why did other dolphins with the same sonic powers of perception attempt to intervene on the calf's behalf, only to be chased away by Slooper herself? Maybe the case for infanticide lay elsewhere," Slater hypothesized.
Infanticide of human children has been reported in places such as Pakistan, where some prefer to use their resources to feed a male child versus a female child. AlJazeera America quoted Ramzan Chhipa, the founder of Chhipa Welfare Association, as saying "The government has failed to provide jobs for a majority of the population, the state of education is abysmal, and law and order in the country is almost nonexistent."
Infanticide is also an issue in India, according to Law Quest. "For a healthy society the male female sex ratio must remain at a balanced level," the article states. "The alarming rate of female foeticide is a cause of grave concern, as the number of girls born is declining drastically in several sections of our society. Due to this disproportionate ratio, the situation has the potential to expose females to more exploitation and violence. This state of affairs if not checked will have a disastrous impact on the future generations of our country."
The BBC reported that "Infanticide is an often overlooked way of ensuring the survival of the fittest. It has been recorded in a number of species including mammals such as rodents and primates, and fish, insects and amphibians."
People are getting married later in life and having fewer children than has been traditional in the past. So maybe "infanticide" is a bit strong, but with surveys such as one quoted by the BBC reporting that 42 percent of women in the U.K. are "not at all confident" in their financial future, perhaps career advancement has just played a larger than expected role in family planning.