Sperm whales in the Azores “adopted” a disabled dolphin. An upcoming report by the Aquatic Mammals journal details the relationship between a bottlenose dolphin with scoliosis and the whales. Scientists involved in the study noted that the incident was the first time sperm whales have been seen behaving in a non-aggressive manner with a different species.
Researchers were reportedly quite surprise to spot the disabled dolphin spending time with a group of sperm whales. The bottlenose dolphin has a very distinct curvature of the spine, which likely makes swimming both difficult and possibly painful.
The Aquatic Mammals report authors stated that the Azores sperm whales interacted with the dolphin in a conspecific (member of the same species) way, The Weather Channel notes. Jens Krause and Alexander Wilson relayed that the whales both allowed and initiated physical contact with the disabled dolphin. The touching between the dolphin and the whales reportedly extended beyond a simple tolerance for one another.
Wilson had this to say about the stunning experience:
“Initially, we thought it was a very unusual interaction as sperm whales are not known to show non-aggressive behavior to other species of cetaceans. However, at this point we thought it might just be a one-off unusual interaction. When some time afterwards we saw the same dolphin still interacting with the same or other sperm whales, we thought there must be some underlying mechanism. Beyond the animals simply being in the same place at the same time.”
The researchers determined that the sperm whales were engaging in “social play” with the disabled bottlenose dolphin. The men also think the whales might have looked at the dolphin as if it was a sperm whale calf.
[Image via: Toronto Star Photo Credit: Aquatic Mammals/Alexander D. M. Wilson]