A very interesting story about dolphin behavior from researchers.
One day, a research team was following a school of bottlenose dolphins in the waters off Los Angeles, California. Then, something unexpected happened.
The dolphins were still feeding in circle near shore, when suddenly, one individual changed direction heading out toward deeper water. A minute later, the rest of the school turned to follow. We were so accustomed to tracking these coastal metropolitan dolphins back and forth within a few hundred meters of the beach, that seeing them abruptly leave a foraging ground and change direction came as a surprise to the research team. I decided to follow them.
The dolphins increased their speed, still heading offshore as I pushed the throttle ahead to keep pace while one of my researchers recorded this hasty change in behavior on the sighting form. Somewhere near three miles offshore the dolphin group stopped, forming a sort of ring around a dark object in the water.
“Someone’s in the water!” yelled my assistant…
The dolphins had pinpointed a woman in the water. The team pulled her into their boat, rescuing her from drowning and hypothermia. She’s going to be OK but apparently she was attempting to commit suicide. The researcher, Maddalena Bearzi of Ocean Conservation Society, noted that they stopped thinking about the dolphins during the rescue but wonders what they would have done if the humans had not followed them and performed the rescue. A very good question! How can this be explained? Dolphins often react intelligently and protectively towards people in trouble in the water. It’s not clear at all if the dolphins do this out of altruism or just instinct. I wish we could know.