Dolphins signaled researchers to aid in unexpected rescue

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.

Dolphins Guide Scientists to Rescue Suicidal Girl – News Watch.

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.

More examples:

Dolphin gives girl a nice juicy present.

Woman says dolphins helped in rescue.

A helping fin.

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  16 comments for “Dolphins signaled researchers to aid in unexpected rescue

  1. May 30, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    I really think we’ve drastically underestimated the intelligence and emotional range of marine mammals, and mammals in general.

    • One Eyed Jack
      May 30, 2014 at 3:42 PM

      We are marine animals.

      • May 30, 2014 at 10:23 PM

        Now you really need some evidence to back up that extraordinary claim.

        • One Eyed Jack
          May 31, 2014 at 8:08 AM

          On the off chance that you’re serious, pick up a biology book and read up on human evolution. We are fish.

          Better yet, try this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307277453/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=34087865831&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=378002865621113710&hvpone=9.07&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_67yjzw3fwv_b

          • busterggi
            May 31, 2014 at 9:30 AM

            I am not a fish even if my father’s family did come from a small town in Massachusetts.

            • One Eyed Jack
              May 31, 2014 at 4:29 PM

              Maybe you’re a lobster.

          • Mark Richards
            June 1, 2014 at 4:00 AM

            We aren’t fish and fish aren’t ‘marine mammals.’

            Many, many, many generations ago our mammalian ancestor evolved from a reptile which many, many, many generations earlier evolved from a fish.

            If we were fish or marine mammals we’d be a lot more at home in the sea than we are and wouldn’t need ‘rescuing’ by dolphins.

            • One Eyed Jack
              June 1, 2014 at 10:06 PM

              Yes, but it sort of defeats the purpose of a pithy, one-line response to explain all that, doesn’t it?

  2. May 30, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Three miles offshore?

    • Chris
      May 31, 2014 at 12:32 AM

      That depends on the rip tides. It does happen, at least my SCUBA instructor warned us about it. Or she could have been in a boat and jumped off without anyone noticing.

    • Bill T.
      June 2, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      I had the same thought. Rip currents, jumped from a boat, …, one can speculate but without info it’s just that, speculation.

      The source APPEARS to be relatively believable, but:
      1. No indication of date when this happened.
      2. No indication of author or institution (I found a copy of the story posted on National Geographic News Watch “Ocean Views” by a Maddalena Bearzi http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/29/dolphins-guide-scientists-to-rescue-suicidal-girl/, but did she just repost it or is she the actual author?)
      3. The story is void of details of any other sort, making it just about impossible to cross-check the authenticity. I tried.

  3. Katey
    May 30, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    Researching animal behaviour and making conclusions based on that behaviour (especially in forms of anecdotes) is always tricky, but when it comes to highly intelligent nonhuman animals, you do need to consider them to string together a cohesive narrative. There have been too many similar incidents, for thousands of years, to dismiss them. I think it is highly probable that dolphins and other animals are capable of and perform acts of true altruism (not based on kin selection) just as humans do. Before, it wouldn’t have even been entertained as a thought, but now it is, with instances occurring in many different species. Nonhuman animals are no longer considered mere automatons as they one were, and the attributes that were thought to be uniquely human are not.

    Still, one still has to be wary of drawing conclusions w/o definitive evidence. But the arbitrary lines between humans and nonhumans are disappearing.

  4. BobM
    May 30, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Whatever those dolphins were doing, it was dolphin stuff. Nothing to do with rescuing anyone.

  5. busterggi
    May 31, 2014 at 9:10 PM

    That would be Maine.

  6. Joni
    June 1, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    I wonder if the Dolphins sensed the victim flailing about or “smelled” a fresh meal about to be served? Could be there intents were based on hunger rather than altruism.

    I know, let’s ask Flipper.

    • Bill T.
      June 2, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      Dolphins do not predate humans, or other prey for which humans could be confused. Their motivation almost certainly would not have been hunger.

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