Photo: Alexander Wilson
While observing sperm whales in the Azores, ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology noticed something unusual and heartwarming: a group of sperm whales adopting a deformed bottlenose dolphin.
The interaction puzzled the scientists, because sperm whales aren't known for their friendliness with other species. Are the whales protecting the dolphins from predator? Or using it to help forage for food? Wilson doesn't think so - instead, he concludes that they're friends:
“Really, it seems that, somehow, either one or both parties derive some social benefit, whether it be social play, or just some way to relax and interact with another cetacean.”
Wilson also pointed out that the dolphin’s malformed spine, similar to scoliosis, suggests he was bullied or harassed by other dolphins and sought social refuge in the group of whales.
“In dolphin groups, there are strong hierarchies, with dominant individuals and less dominant individuals. They tend to be very fast,” he said. “It just might be that this dolphin with scoliosis wasn’t as fast or was lower on the pecking order.”
He added that sperm whales may be misunderstood – perhaps they’ve just never been given a fair shot at inter-species mingling.
“It may not that sperm whales don’t normally do this type of behaviour, it may be that sperm whales don’t necessarily often encounter another species that would desire such a relationship.”
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