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."
Exploring the oceans from one of these animals points of view would be an exciting (and eye opening) experience.
So what marine animal would you be if you had the chance to be any creature in the ocean? We posed this question to our Ocean Heroes finalists, and hereâ€™s what they had to say. See if you can match their responses to the pictures above (answers at the bottom of this post)!
Michele Hunter â€“ Harbor seal
Hardy Jones â€“ Sperm whale
Kristofor Lofgren â€“ Mako shark
Dave Rauschkolb â€“ Porpoise
Richard Steiner â€“ Polar bear (I like the odds and the challenge they face)
Donald Voss â€“ Humpback whale
Sara Brenes â€“ Tiger Shark
Calvineers â€“ Blue whale
Sam Harris â€“ Tiger Shark
James Hemphill â€“ Hawksbill Sea Turtle (I have always been amazed at all the colors on its shell and how gracefully and peacefully it swims)
Teakahla WhiteCloud â€“ Dolphin
Make sure to vote for your favorite Ocean Heroes, open from now until July 11th. Stay tuned to learn more about our finalists!
Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Sperm Whale: Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Tiger Shark: Albert Kok, Harbor Seal: NOAA, Hawksbill Turtle: NOAA/Caroline Rogers, Porpoise: NOAA, Tiger Shark: Austin Gallagher, Humpback Whale: NOAA, Dolphin: Oceana/Eduardo Sorenson, Mako Shark: NOAA, Polar bear: NOAA, Blue Whale: NOAA (middle)
Thereâ€™s no shortage of blame to go around when it comes to climate change. Individuals are responsible for poor consumer choices; we drive the wrong cars, use the wrong light bulbs, even wash our laundry on the wrong setting. Even the poor dairy cow shares the blame for having the nerve to burp methane emissions. But Bessie isnâ€™t the only creature catching a bad rap. Sperm whales have been criticized for breathing. Yes, breathing. Apparently the carbon dioxide emitted from the roughly 210,000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean is contributing to global warming, producing in the ballpark of 17 million tons of carbon a year. But new research suggests that weâ€™re missing a very big factor in the calculation. Itâ€™s not just what the whales put out, but also what they take in.