Herman Melvilleâ€™s Moby Dick may paint a picture of the sperm whale as a terrifying, ferocious creature that destroys ships and attacks the sailors on them, but modern research shows that sperm whales are compassionate and social creatures, dangerous only to the fish and squid that the giant whale feasts on for dinner, or to the orca whales that prey on sperm whale calves. A heartwarming and unusual recent discovery does even more to distinguish the sperm whale from its deadly reputation, as a group of sperm whales were observed â€śadoptingâ€ť a bottlenose dolphin with a spinal malformation.
Behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause discovered this unique phenomenon when they set out to observe sperm whales off the island of Pico in the Azores in 2011. Upon arriving there, they discovered a whale group of adult sperm whales, several whale calves, and an adult male bottlenose dolphin. Over the next eight days, the pair observed the dolphin with the whales six more times, socializing and even nuzzling and rubbing members of the group. At times, the sperm whales seemed merely to tolerate the dolphinâ€™s affection, while at others, they reciprocated. "It really looked like they had accepted the dolphin for whatever reason," Wilson reports to ScienceNOW. "They were being very sociable."
Did you know there are about 40 species of dolphin? When you think of dolphins, you might just be picturing the bottlenose dolphin or the common dolphin, but what about the long-snouted spinner dolphin? (And did you know that the killer whale is actually a kind of dolphin too?)
Long-snouted spinner dolphins are relatively small for oceanic dolphins, growing only about 7 feet long (the bottlenose dolphin is about 10 feet long). Spinner dolphins are highly social and are often seen in pods of hundreds of dolphins. Like all dolphins, spinners communicate by echolocation, which is an elaborate series of clicks and whistles. Spinner dolphins also slap the surface of the water with their fins to communicate.