Bottlenose Dolphin Adopts Whale Calf of Another Species

Interspecies adoptions are rare, but it’s not the first time this population of dolphins in French Polynesia has attempted it.

From a small inflatable boat in the Rangiroa atoll in French Polynesia, Pamela Carzon got her first glimpse of the “strange” trio of marine mammals she’d been told about: a bottlenose dolphin mother (Tursiops truncatus), her seven-month-old calf, and another young cetacean that was slightly smaller and looked to be not a bottlenose dolphin at all, but a melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra). 

It was April 2015, and Carzon and a colleague at the Marine Mammal Study Group of French Polynesia, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to whale and dolphin conservation, were out for the NGO’s annual photo-ID survey, very much hoping to find animals that a former collaborator had seen while diving in the region the previous November. “[T]he sea was very calm, and there were many dolphins around,” Carzon, also a PhD student at the Center for Island Research and Environmental Observatory (CRIOBE) in French Polynesia and the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, recalls in an email to The Scientist. “It took us maybe two minutes to spot them: the dark calf was easy to spot among the bottlenose dolphins.”

DOLPHIN ADOPTION: A female bottlenose dolphin in the South Pacific has been sighted with both her own calf and another young cetacean identified as a melon-headed whale.

The mother, dubbed ID#TP25 by the researchers, was known to tolerate divers and boats, and that April day she approached the inflatable with both calves. Carzon grabbed her underwater camera and slipped into the water. “I was able to get good underwater footage and to sex both calves,” she says. ID#TP25’s natural calf was a female; the second calf was male. “I also noticed that both were ‘gently’ pushing each other [in order] to remain under the adult female’s abdomen” in so-called infant position. Continued observation over the following months revealed that the dolphin mom was nursing the foreign calf, whose species ID remains to be confirmed with genetic testing, and otherwise treated him as one of her own.

Carzon had been studying the bottle-nose dolphin community inhabiting the northern part of Rangiroa atoll for a decade and knew that the cetaceans had a history of bringing young animals of other species into their group. In 1996, researchers observed a newborn spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostrisswimming in the slipstream of an adult male bottlenose—a behavior known as echelon swimming and a common interaction between mothers and calves. Scientists also regularly spotted a juvenile spinner dolphin over the next two years, often with a particular adult female bottlenose, Carzon says, although it’s not clear whether it was the same individual they saw as a newborn. Then, in November 1998, a newborn melon-headed whale spent a few weeks in the area and was filmed swimming in echelon position with the same female bottlenose that had associated with the young spinner dolphin.

More recently, another adult female bottlenose in the same community has twice been seen with young of a different species. In January 2011, she was spotted with a neonate spinner dolphin for a few days, and in February 2018, she was photographed with a newborn Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei), which swam alongside her in echelon position. With such behaviors apparently relatively common within this social group, ID#TP25 may have picked up a thing or two from her conspecific companions, speculates Carzon. “The evidence that bottlenose dolphins are capable of imitation is very strong,” she says. “[S]ocially transmitted ideas or practices from cultural models may have influenced [ID#TP25’s] behavior.” 

As is the case with most animal adoptions in the wild, how the mother bottlenose came to acquire the melon-headed whale calf is unknown. The calf’s natural mother may have died, or the bottlenose dolphin group may have “kidnapped” it, a behavior that was once observed in a dolphin group in the

Bay of Gibraltar, Carzon notes. Whatever scenario landed the outside calf in the care of dolphin ID#TP25, the adoption was stable, lasting more than two years. ID#TP25’s naturalcalf disappeared by early 2016, suggesting it died or weaned early, possibly joining another social group.

There is only one other published case of intraspecies adoption by animals in the wild: for about 14 months in the early 2000s, researchers documented the integration of an infant marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) into a group of capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus) in woodland savanna of central Brazil. A female monkey that the researchers had thought was pregnant but who perhaps lost her own baby cared for the infant marmoset, carrying it on her back and appearing to nurse it. “It was amazing because when she appeared, she was tiny tiny tiny,” says Patrícia Izar, a primate ethologist at the University of São Paulo in Brazil who observed the adoption. “She was really a newborn, and she survived.” Izar says she was particularly astonished because she knew that some groups of capuchin monkeys eat young marmosets. Care for the young animal was eventually assumed by another female capuchin, and all group members appeared to tolerate the marmoset’s presence.

As for why intraspecies adoptions do—rarely—occur, wildlife conservation professor Robert Young of the University of Salford in the UK suggests that animals may not recognize that they’re caring for young of another species. In the case of the dolphins, the presumed melon-headed whale is similar in size to the adoptive mother’s own bottlenose dolphin calf, and the dolphins have not evolved a strong ability to differentiate their own young from those of another species. “There’s good reason to think it’s just an identification problem,” says Young, who says he has observed a handful of intraspecies adoptions among black-fronted titi monkeys (Callicebus nigrifrons) in Brazil.

The high levels of oxytocin coursing through mammalian mothers’ bodies and the abundance of resources are also likely to be relevant factors. Indeed, in the case of the capuchin group that took in a marmoset baby, Izar and her colleagues had been providing coconuts to study the animals’ use of stones to crack the fruit open, meaning that the monkeys had plenty of food to eat, and so looking after additional young might have been less costly. Interspecies adoptions are also much more common among domestic and captive animals, for whom food is often plentiful, than they are in the wild, Young notes. “If you’ve got a lactating female dog, you can just about get it to rear any other mammal.”

Documented cases of interspecies adoption among the Rangiroa dolphins and Brazilian monkeys “shows that it’s not impossible,” says Izar. “I think that in time we will have other cases in the wild.”

The adoption was stable, lasting more than two years.



How Can I Make a Difference in The World as a Dolphin Behaviourist?

Taking the opportunity in this information age, there is no better time to educate others about this exciting but sometines controversial topic.

Help educate those who do not have any idea of how we train dolphins and explain proper techniques that are enriching and caring.

There are some people out there, who think training a dolphin is something negative, here we try to help aviod common misunderstandings and shock those who thought they knew about this subject.

For instance, it may be surprising to some to know that the technique used to train dolphins is the same technique used  in school to teach children at school.

Positive Reinforcement/Operant Conditioning

Apart from my extensive years of experience being a spetialist in marine mammal training behaviours, I have adquired teahcing qualifications that have enabled me to  work with children, within national education schools in England, UK. I have used positive reinforcement to modify unwanted behaviour in countless children, many also having learning desabilities, with great success.

I expereinced that edutaional staff, who had excellent teaching records and an experienced career in teaching, had given up on these children ever being helped fully. They did not have the right knowledge or resources to correct certain kinds of behaviour. I took up the challenge to improve their behaviour and had fantastic results, removing unwanted behaviour completely. Because I focused on positive reinforcement, I  could target my actions specifically and positively modify the childs behaviour. This encouraged them to learn on a more positive way, especially those with learning desabilities children. I corrected behaviours using operant conditioning methods, always rewarding wanted behaviour positively and being careful never to punish, but divert, suggest ways forward and show the merit of good behaviour or effort.

A couple years ago I was invited to create the first FaceBook group about dolphin training, Dolphin Trainers of the Caribbean. I realised whilst doing educational programs for this group, that I would like to expand this help in the future. I wanted to educate those who lacked knowledge in the dolphin training world. I created my own group Via Dolphin. One of the main reasons and the greatest joy of this group, is seeing the posibility of making a difference to the lives and careers of trainers all over the world. I wanted to give the opportunity to anyone interested in learning how to train a dolphin. I would show them how this can be achieved in a happy and positive environment, which is then not only the best way to care for the  dolphins under human care, but gives joy and enrichment to both dolphins, trainers and lovers of dolphins alike.

So to recap on the reducation regarding any negative attitudes towards dolphin training, I hope to educate and inform those animal lovers, who think that training dolphins is not right. Dolphin under human care dolphins cannot be transferred into the wild environment, since most have never lived as wild dolphins and the would not survive or be happy to leave their only known environment, where they have food, health care and enrichment amongst familiar dolphins. To try to ensure their environment is the very best it can be and their lives are the most enriched they can be is my goal. Intelligent open-minded people will see that there is nothing negative about training an animal positively, whether it is a dolphin, a sea lion, monkey, hourse, dog, tiger or a bird.

I understand there are people that believe dolphins within human care, are treated very bad and that they are mistreated by the facilities. I aknowledge some problems may be out there, but to address this, my information, help and training is designed to educate and help improve all facilities and trainers environments. It must also be ackowledged that negative misinformation and manipulated propaganda, also exists to confuse and misguide, so our message is one of factual contant, proven techniques and explainations of positve reinforcement and positive enrichment approach at all times.

Many years ago, there was not enough information for trainers and their techniques left a lot to be desired. Today there is no such excuse, research studies scientificaly prove that positive training is the best and most effective technique for teaching and enrichment of all living life, animals as well as humans.

Animals and humans learn best whilst palying and having fun, they don’t even notice they are learning or training because it is enjoyable and is based on trust.

No-one should be deprived of the opportunity to learn and providing material for all animal lovers, to understand what a positive and enriching experience the proper  training techniques can provide, will hopefully help us all to live together in a much more positive way.

Sperm whaling

Educational-Trainers self-development

Many of our members ask why whaling is still permitted and why they do it?

Here I share some information with you, so you have an idea why!!

Sperm whaling is the hunting of these marine mammals for the oil, meat and bone that can be extracted from their bodies. Sperm whales, a large and deep-diving species, produce a waxy substance that was especially useful during the Industrial Revolution, and so they were targeted in 19th-century whaling, as exemplified in Moby Dick. Sperm oil is no longer needed, but another unusual product, ambergris, is still valued as a perfume fixative. Although the animal is classified as a vulnerable species, aboriginal whaling in limited numbers is still permitted, notably from two villages in Indonesia, for subsistence.

Sperm whales were hunted in the 19th century by American, British and other national whaling fleets. As with all the species targeted, the thick layer of fat (blubber) was flensed (removed from the carcass) and rendered, either on the whaling ship itself, or at a shore station. This was the whale oil, stored in casks for the long journey home. It was sold as a lamp fuel, not a food product; the whale meat was discarded. The other species that were within reach during the Age of Sail were filter-feeders, and their baleen had many commercial uses. The sperm whale, being a toothed hunter, lacked this so-called whalebone, but it did produce a valuable commodity: sperm oil.

Each whale’s head held up to a ton, in a cavity called the “case”. It was part of a waxy liquid called spermaceti, from which the whale got its common name. The liquid was removed from the spermaceti organ at sea, and stored separately from the rendered whale oil for processing back in port. On return home, this headmaster, which was worth around 20% more than the oil from the blubber, was divided into two valuable commodities. One was a very pure type of sperm whale oil that required little or no additional processing. It was found particularly suitable as a lubricant for fine machinery, such as pocket watches. What remained after the oil was extracted was a waxy substance that could be made into spermaceti candles. These burned longer and brighter than tallow candles and left no smell and, as a result, sold at a higher price.[1] Although spermaceti by-products were high-value, they made up only a small proportion, perhaps 10%, of the substances extracted from sperm whales.

This product had a variety of commercial applications. In addition to the manufacture of candles, spermaceti was used in soap, cosmetics, machine oil, other specialized lubricants, lamp oil, paint, putty, pencils, crayons, leather waterproofing, rust-proofing materials and many pharmaceutical compounds.

Two other products of the sperm whale are of economic importance. Ambergris, a solid, waxy, flammable substance produced in their digestive system, was also sought as a fixative in perfumery. The whales’ teeth were carved by sailors into scrimshaw art.

Source: Wikipedia


How to stop your dolphin from ignoring you

For a trainer there is nothing more annoying and frustrating than having a dolphin swimming away from the trainer during show or interactive program.

How can I do to correct this unwanted behaviour?

By practising the techniques and tips bellow it will be much easier to keep a high level of discipline and your animal will not even notice.

There is nothing more reinforcing to the trainer than having an animal interacting because your animal has chosen to do so.

Avoid making your animal to get bored or doing the same thing over and over!!

There are many techniques you can use to make your animal focus 100%. It’s all about not running out of Ideas, be active, be fun…unpredictable…variety is the key!

If you are specifically working on correcting this annoying behaviour here is one of the techniques you can use.

When the animal is about to go away, seconds before grab some fish on your hand, the animal will change its mind and comeback to you, paying more attention, when the animal have engaged send it to perform the behaviour. After doing this behaviour if the animal comeback offers an excellent reinforcement, give the animal a hole fish.

Make eye contact, give a lot of attention to your animal…Tell the animal, great response girl/boy…that’s how you suppose to respond to a cue, talk to your animal on a very exited way, share your positive vibes with your animal.

Another way of engaging is to move away from your usual spot, go to the place where the animal less expect you to go, carry the cooler with you…when the animal reaches to you and is  looking at you from the bottom, as soon as the animal is heading up to the surface inches close to the top,  ask for whatever the behaviour you would like to ask, make sure is an easy behaviour, so the is not excuses from the animal to perform, the most important is that the animal engage with you. then offer primary reinforcement (fish).

Conditioning the animal to your movements is very useful.

An excellent technique is to condition your animal when you are handling the animal and the animal keep going away or ignoring the trainer is to one clap holding a small fish at the sound let the fish drop from your hands; this could be done at any time. this will cause more attention from the animal, when the animal gets distracted, you can clap and the animal will make eye contact or comeback straight to you, the animal will be paying attention to your hands, if you clap and the animal responds right away by picking up the fish that has dropped, then you reinforce again with a handful, just for responding or coming close to  or paying attention to your hand. This technique is very discreet and its very convenient for when doing programs.

If you try hard enough to correct unwanted behaviour is also good to bear in mind and having in consideration that the animal might not be interested in doing the program, in this case you start your session as usual, as soon as your animal elicit the unwanted behaviour, switch for another animal or ask another trainer to take over your program and let your animal go.

Plan ahead before starting.…communication here is one your greatest asset and creating emergences signal for different situations among trainers and use them discreetly without others realising.

Ask another other trainer to take over as soon as you make eyes contact, raise your hand or make an emergency signal to the other trainer during program time.

Make sure you are discreate when correcting behaviours when during interaction programs.

 keeping the professionalism of your work, it will define you as a good quality trainer.

Chinese white dolphin population dwindling, says govt report

The number of Chinese white dolphins in Hong Kong waters has been decreasing, according to the latest official statistics, suggesting that government efforts to preserve the endangered species appear to be making little headway.

According to the 2016/17 Marine Mammals Monitoring Report published by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), there were only 47 sightings of Chinese white dolphins in the waters off Lantau, where they tend to appear most often.

The number represented a 27 percent drop from the previous year and the lowest since 2002. There were no sightings for the second year in a row in the northeast waters of Lantau, where the main construction work for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is taking place

In 1997, the Chinese white dolphin was chosen as the mascot to mark Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. It is listed among the wild animals under Grade 1 conservation according to Chinese law.

To prepare the report on marine mammals, researchers conducted a total of 178 line-transect vessel surveys in 10 survey areas in Hong Kong waters between April 2016 and March 2017.

Of the 1,233 dolphins sighted during the 12-month period, including Chinese white dolphins, only 17 were unspotted juveniles.

These young calves comprised only 1.4 percent of the total, compared with nearly 8 percent in 2003, suggesting the population of dolphins may dwindle in the future.

Dr. Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society and lead writer of the AFCD report, said the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has had a great impact on the habitat of the Chinese white dolphin, according to

Construction of the planned third runway and the high-speed ferries that regularly pass the waters are further threats to the animals’ survival, Hung said.

To help preserve the dolphins, Hung urged the government to establish a large marine protected area in West Lantau waters.

“Habitat destruction from expanding reclamation work in Lantau waters and the hi-speed marine traffic in the area have increased the stress on the dolphin population,” the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said. “The underwater noise generated inhibits their echolocation capability.”

These disturbances threaten the survival of the remaining dolphins in Hong Kong waters, said Samantha Lee, WWF-Hong Kong conservation manager for oceans.

WWF-Hong Kong urges the government to establish the West Lantau Marine Park as soon as possible to protect the remaining dolphin habitats.