01.09.2019 – Shared existence
Our transition into the month of September happened on board our zodiac, the Stenella, who brought us to sightings involving her two namesakes this morning; the Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and the Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) and drifted gently amongst some resting Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) this afternoon.
One of the first things that becomes crystal clear when encountering dolphins in the wild, is the complex social behaviour of these animals. Oceanic dolphins tend to rely on friendships after they leave the protection and care of their mothers. These friendships may be extremely short or last a lifetime and play a decisive role in what every individual learns and how they socialise. While the fluid units within oceanic dolphin pods, such as those of the Striped and the Spotted, often display a unique group dynamic, the fixed herds of blackfish such as the Pilot whales usually travel in compact formations. Females in these matrilineal herds will spend their entire lives with their birth pod before they themselves must take up the responsibility of passing the herds culture down to future generations.
Yet these are all superficial representations of a sort of shared existence that exists in all dolphins, a social dynamic we are far from understanding. This is very different to what for example ants or bees possess, where individuals often sacrifice themselves for their colony. We are talking about a shared existence on an emotional level amongst animals who have been proven to be self-aware, a unique and remarkable phenomenon in the animal kingdom. This is also best represented in the mass strandings that occur with several species of whales, with many individuals often beaching themselves out of solidarity in a desperate attempt to not abandon their close peers.
While such facts don’t fail to stir up even more love and admiration for these animals in us, we are far from understanding how truly emotionally sophisticated cetaceans actually are.
By Paula Thake
Sightings of the day
09:00 Atlantic spotted dolphins, Striped dolphins
12:00 Short-finned pilot whales