In the world of unlikely animal alliances, it seems a group of sperm whales in the eastern Atlantic Ocean have temporarily adopted a dolphin with a spinal deformation.
Berlin-based scientists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause spotted the unlikely friends near the Azores Islands, an archipelago about 900 miles off the coast of Portugal. According to a recent report in Science Magazine, two behavioral ecologists witnessed a bottlenose dolphin nuzzling and rubbing up against a group that included several whale calves. Over an eight day period, the ecologists said that the whales seemed to tolerate and even reciprocate the dolphin’s affection. “It really looked like they had accepted the dolphin for whatever reason…they were being very sociable,” said Wilson.
Scientists knew they were observing the same dolphin because of its visible spinal deformation. Although the dolphin appeared to be otherwise healthy, this probable birth defect could have rendered him unacceptable in or unable to keep up with his dolphin group, and thus in search of a new crew.
“Sometimes some individuals can be picked on,” Wilson said. “It might be that this individual didn’t fit in, so to speak, with its original group.” It is hypothesized that the dolphin was better able to keep up with the whales because they swim more slowly and always leave a “babysitter” near the surface with the calves while the other adults dive deep.
Remarkable and “aww”-worthy animal alliances are nothing new: Koko, the signing gorilla, and her pet cat, All Ball; Owen the hippopotamus and giant tortoise, Mzee; and who can forget Tara, the elephant, who mourned the loss of her best pal, Bella the dog? So, it’s no surprise that dolphins, the most gregarious of ocean-dwellers, are fraternizing with other Cetaceans.
However, this adoption-at-sea is highly uncharacteristic for sperm whales, who are often motoring to get to new and fruitful hunting grounds. And what’s more, although dolphins are not an endangered species, the sperm whale is one of about 2,000 on the Endangered Species list and is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), so sightings are rare.
Whether this perceived friendship is fleeting or enduring, borne from empathy and concern, or just a case of species merely tolerating one another in a giant ocean, this sighting is unprecedented and hopefully gives the dolphin the sense of community he might have been seeking.
Via Science Magazine