Hey Rick Ruder, thanks for taking the time to read & respond.
I’m not sure that only humans commit suicide is true, either. It’s an interesting controversy. But what does seem clear from the literature is that, at this point, most evidence to the contrary is anecdotal, and the scientific community is undecided.
In the New York Times article I quoted, Olivia Judson, who’s an evolutionary biologist & science writer felt comfortable enough to write:
“But here’s another way to look at it [suicide]. No other animal does this. Chimpanzees don’t hang themselves from trees, slit their wrists, set themselves alight, or otherwise destroy themselves. Suicide is an essentially human behavior.”
Katherine Gammon, a science writer for LiveScience made a useful point of distinction:
“For an act to be classified as a suicide, the agent must know that what it is doing will end its life.” (Source)
If we accept her distinction, which I do, much of the current anecdotal evidence of animals killing themselves loses weight.
Gammon herself concludes:
“It’s more likely that animals will inadvertently terminate their own lives when depressed or lonely. Highly bonded animals change their behavior when they lose a companion. For example, dogs in such situations sometimes go into depression and reject food and attention until they eventually die. The inactivity caused by depression is not the same as suicide, even though it may lead to death.”
Degrees of agency & understanding is an incredibly difficult thing to tease out in the actions of animals, so I’m not sure how we’ll proceed on the debate regarding whether or not animals commit suicide. Look forward to finding out.
Also, I never knew whales occasionally beach themselves. That’s pretty startling.