Korea: Dolphins form raft to help dying friend
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Korea: Dolphins form raft to help dying friend

Korean scientists have witnessed some fascinating behavior of dolphins trying to keep a dying comrade alive.

During a 2008 research expedition in the Sea of Japan, members of the Cetacean Research Institute of Ulsan, South Korea observed a group of around 12 long-beaked common dolphins swimming together in tight formation around an injured female who appeared to be partially paralyzed.

From the New Scientist:

The other dolphins crowded around it, often diving beneath it and supporting it from below. After about 30 minutes, the dolphins formed into an impromptu raft: they swam side by side with the injured female on their backs. By keeping the injured female above water, they may have helped it to breathe, avoiding drowning.

After the female dolphin appeared to have died some of the helpers left, while a few stayed on, perhaps to mourn the passing of their friend. Scientific explanations of this rescue action range from territorial behavior and genetic preservation to group bonding and empathy.

See the accompanying video in the New Scientist.

In other dolphin news, a new state-of-the-art dolphinarium was opened in Pyongyang, North Korea this past summer. Bit of bread and circus perhaps, and not so great for dolphins, but neither is the ongoing mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, which continues despite international outcries.

So far 1,209 have been driven into the cove this year, both for their meat and for dolphinariums, like the one in North Korea, though I imagine Pyongyang had another source for their dolphins than neighboring Japan, but who knows? Taiji supplies dolphins to marine parks around the globe, from East Asian countries like China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines to lands further afield like Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Egypt and the Ukraine.

From Digital Journal:

The one area that Taiji fishermen are unable to control is the species of dolphin driven into the Cove. Captive and kill rates are always dictated by species. Specific types of dolphins are more desirable to the cetacean display industry than others, and are therefore worth more. These ‘money dolphins’ are specifically the bottlenose species and to some extent, the Pacific white-sided and Pantropical spotted dolphins.

Risso dolphins and striped dolphins are generally slaughtered, due to their behavior in captivity and for aesthetic reasons. Those other species destined for marine parks can look forward to a humiliating, frightening and confined existence, where the noise of cheering crowds will painfully reverberate through their tiny swimming pools and ignorant spectators will think the dolphins are happy because it looks like they’re smiling.


Dall's porpoise market, Japan, pic: Campaign Whale (Flickr CC)