Bottlenose dolphins are known to stay with their young ones for as long as six years. They make great moms who love to nurse, protect, and play with their calves for a long time. Research has now found a wild bottlenose dolphin not only caring for her own calf but also an adopted one.
And the most surprising part? The adopted calf is not even a bottlenose dolphin! It’s a melon-headed whale who has joined the duo of a newly turned bottlenose dolphin mother and her calf.
In 2014, off the coast of French Polynesia, researchers witnessed a bottlenose dolphin mom with a different looking male calf. This calf seemed to have a blunt and short beak which is not characteristic of bottlenose dolphins. Pamela Carzon, the leader of Groupe d’Étude des Mammifères Marins (GEMM) de Polynésie mentioned how the team was excited to find this special trio. This team had been studying the group of 30 dolphins since 2009 and this adopted whale was discovered in 2014.
Dolphins are known to nurse only one offspring at a time but this caring mom was also taking care of her adopted whale baby. They two calves would often fight for the mother’s attention. The whale would even shove the dolphin calf away from the mother dolphin’s abdomen. The whale calf attempted to also socialize with the larger group of 30 dolphins. He would also join the other dolphin calves to jump on the waves and play together.
The mother bottlenose dolphin stuck with her adopted whale for almost 3 years. The last time the team spotted them was in April 2018. While the dolphin’s biological baby vanished after 1 and a half years, the whale still clung to her. The mother was also spotted nursing the whale baby on 2 occasions by the research team. Only a truly committed mother would go this far for a baby of a different species.
While dolphins are known to “steal” other dolphin calves when they are grieving, the kids are let off soon. The fact that this inter-species duo stuck together for so long has baffled the scientists.
They are of the opinion that since the mother bottlenose dolphin had recently birthed her own child, her maternal instincts guided her to adopt this orphan whale. Those mommy hormones helped her bond with the adopted calf. The researchers also believe that the mother dolphin’s particularly social personality helped her accept this “alien” baby. They had previously observed her being quite friendly with scuba divers too.
Carzon is astonished at how young dolphins can be flexible in their behavior and go as far as to actually adopt someone from a different species!
Video and Image: National Geographic