Dolphin Rescues Beached Whales

This is such a good story that I decided it deserved its own slot, rather than being featured in links.

Dolphins haven’t been studied as intensively as monkeys, but there is ample anecdotal evidence, and some research, suggesting that they approach humans in intelligence (one philosopher, having surveyed the literature, argued that they are “non-human persons”). Dolphins are the only non-human species known to form ad hoc groups across established social lines to perform specific tasks and to seek out humans out of what appears to be curiosity.

One incident: two dolphins in a research program did routines for the public. The first would do a sonar demonstration, blindfolded; the second did a program made of tricks she had invented.

One day both dolphins, each in its holding tank, were very agitated. During their performances, the sonar dolphin was hesitant and the one who did the tricks did them out of order. The researchers later found they had mixed the dolphins up. Each dolphin understood that it was expected to execute the other’s program and did it as well as she could.

I wish I had employees that had that much sense.

From the BBC:

A dolphin has come to the rescue of two whales which had become stranded on a beach in New Zealand.

Conservation officer Malcolm Smith told the BBC that he and a group of other people had tried in vain for an hour and a half to get the whales to sea.

The pygmy sperm whales had repeatedly beached, and both they and the humans were tired and set to give up, he said.

But then the dolphin appeared, communicated with the whales, and led them to safety.

The bottlenose dolphin, called Moko by local residents, is well known for playing with swimmers off Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island.

Mr Smith said that just when his team was flagging, the dolphin showed up and made straight for them.

“I don’t speak whale and I don’t speak dolphin,” Mr Smith told the BBC, “but there was obviously something that went on because the two whales changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea.”

He added: “The dolphin did what we had failed to do. It was all over in a matter of minutes.”

Mr Smith said he felt fortunate to have witnessed the extraordinary event, and was delighted for the whales, as in the past he has had to put down animals which have become beached.

He said that the whales have not been seen since, but that the dolphin had returned to its usual practice of playing with swimmers in the bay.

“I shouldn’t do this I know, we are meant to remain scientific,” Mr Smith said, “but I actually went into the water with the dolphin and gave it a pat afterwards because she really did save the day.”

That’s a picture of Moko, not a stock photo. The BBC also has a little video (BBC videos always crash my browsers, but I suspect it’s worth watching). And there’s a more detailed version of the story here.

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  1. Francois

    Very cute story!

    One comment struck me as odd: “”I shouldn’t do this I know, we are meant to remain scientific,” Mr Smith said, “but I actually went into the water with the dolphin and gave it a pat afterwards because she really did save the day.””

    Remain scientific? What he did was quite “scientific” IMO. It’s called positive reinforcement. B.F. Skinner studied that for decades in a very scientific manner and it works. (he he)

  2. bZb

    We sure can use the guidance of a dolphin like that to lead us out of this financial mess; the humans in charge don’t quite know what to do anymore, as in that story.

  3. Yves Smith

    The best bosses I ever had were smart and lazy. Dolphins appear to like having a good time, so they probably wouldn’t be overly interventionist.

    Oh, I can see it now: “The Wisdom of Dolphins.” “10 Dolphin Secrets of Management.” And just think, you’d have to hang out at beaches in order to develop sufficient dolphin expertise to sell their revealed wisdom.

  4. Lune

    Does this mean that Moko is bilingual? Or that whales and dolphins share a common enough language as to be interchangeable?

    There was an interesting story a while ago that whales in different regions of the oceans had slightly different “dialects” (i.e. slightly different pitch to their notes, variations in the specific songs they sang, etc.)

    IIRC, dolphins are also the only other animal outside the great apes that can recognize its image in a mirror as him/herself rather than another dolphin.

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