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Dolphin Cared for Baby Whale for Years, Scientists Say this is the first known case

Dolphin mothers usually care for only one infant at a time.

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Updated:August 1, 2019, 6:06 PM IST
Dolphin Cared for Baby Whale for Years, Scientists Say this is the first known case
Dolphin mothers usually care for only one infant at a time.

A bottlenose dolphin has “adopted” an “orphan” baby melon-headed whale in what scientists are describing as the first known case of its kind.

In 2014, after noticing that a bottlenose dolphin mother was caring for a different-looking male calf as well as her biological calf, researchers began studying the trio in coastal waters off French Polynesia.

The mysterious one-month-old’s beak was short and blunt compared to the slender ones found on bottlenose dolphins.

“Eventually, the scientists identified the orphan as a melon-headed whale—an entirely different species and genus of dolphin,” according to National Geographic.

“We were really excited to be able to witness such a rare phenomenon,” Pamela Carzon, the study’s lead author and scientific leader of the Groupe d’Etude des Mammiferes Marins de Polynesie, told the publication.

Carzon and her team filmed and photographed the unusual sight of the trio frequently swimming together as part of a long-term study of that began in 2009.

The lone melon-headed whale calf rarely left his new mom’s side and vied for her attention along with its adopted sibling.

Dolphin mothers usually care for only one infant at a time.

“The melon-headed whale was behaving exactly the same way as bottlenose dolphins,” Carzon, who reported the observations in June in the journal Ethology, said of the calf’s socializing with young dolphins.

The doting bottlenose dolphin mother dedicated nearly three years to the care of her adopted calf till April 2018, even while her biological calf disappeared for unknown reasons at one-and-a-half years old.

The only other such known case was reported in 2006 by University of São Paulo primatologist Patrícia Izar when he observed a group of capuchins caring for a baby marmoset. “At the time, we were really, really astonished,” she was quoted as saying.

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