Size Doesn’t Matter When Dolphin Mom Adopts Whale Calf

A group of marine biologists have discovered a mother bottlenose dolphin that had adopted a baby pilot whale. Off the coast of New Zealand, they got their first peak at this sanctuary on May 3rd and will be joined by another group in the near future with 20 other members due to arrive soon thereafter.

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The Kiwi-based Far Out Ocean Research Collective discovered a pair of majestic mammals sailing in the Bay of Islands, and has now documented them on two separate occasions five weeks apart.

It’s not unheard of for dolphins to adopt other animals’ babies, but it is very rare to record the phenomenon with such a significant difference in size. For example, Bottlenose Dolphins can reach 300 kilograms and are no small fry–except that Pilot Whales grow up two tons and six meters long!

“She might have lost her own calf,” researcher Jochen Zaeschmar told local reporters of the dolphin’s behavior.

Researchers in French Polynesia found a bottlenose dolphin that was caring for and nursing the young melon-headed whale calf. The two were seen together over three years, during which time it isn’t known if any other adult dolphins attempted to intervene or take care of the newborn animal.

The researchers pondered why the mother dolphins would put so much effort into caring for a calf that wasn’t theirs. They speculate it may be misplaced maternal instinct, which could have been strengthened by this dolphin’s recent loss of her own child. It is an endearing thought to imagine these mothers having personalities and being able to show love in such unusual ways!

When a young whale or dolphin is brought into the care of an older, more experienced one during their weening stage it’s only temporary. However different hunting patterns and family dynamics mean that at some point these adopted babies are on to explore this big world alone.

These cases where baby whales and dolphins have been raised by other species usually last up until they’re able to hunt for themselves (weening). The difference in hunting tactics means that sometimes there isn’t enough parental supervision so eventually these faraway friends move out into the wide ocean all alone!

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