Why do they do it?
Photo by Steve Bloom
In his book "Minding Animals", ethologist Marc Bekoff tells of a study on penguins at Antartica. One of the things the group of researchers observed whilst studying the penguins was how the penguins would line up on ice floes and wait for an individual to jump in and test the water for the presence of leopard seals or killer whales. Then after a few seconds, if the 'scapegoat' surfaced, they would all jump in to look for food for themselves and their children. He goes on to explain how they sometimes would be grieved when a badly mauled penguin would surface, having encountered a predator.
When I read about this penguin behaviour, I wondered what determines which penguin puts itself out to be the scapegoat. I once came across a beautiful reasoning that might possibly serve as an explanation in the book "Mutant message down under". Here it describes how (when a group of animals knows that one of them must die) an animal wants to be honored for the purpose of its existence and to leave the strong to continue the lifeline. Call the book fictional if you will, but this description reached a deep sense of resonance in me.
There has to be a profound reasoning behind animal behaviour like the penguins, which we might not at surface level perceive, because everything natural on this planet has its owns laws and this gives a whole new and moving meaning to the words 'survival of the fittest'. Maybe the fittest survives because the weaker 'consciously' decides to give way. How beautiful is that?!