When a human protects an imperiled individual of another species, we call it compassion. If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn’t all that clear.In Natural History we are told the story of Humpback Whales coming to the rescue of seals on the run from Orcas. The quote above is how the authors conclude the article, in which different Humpbacks saved different seals on three occasions. I believe, as opposed to know, that the whales can feel compassion and a range of "human" emotions. And that's not a 50/50 guess, but one that rests not only of observations like these with the seals, but also on the fact that the whales do have very large brains (not thereby saying that size is everything, even though it clearly does matter).
We don't know for sure, but I think that when dealing with whales and other animals (e.g. elephants and dolphins) that clearly show what we call empathy, sorrow, and compassion in humans, we should assume that they feel it. Otherwise we might make the same mistake as Europeans did with Africans and Native Americans, and end up hurting them to an extent we will come to regret.