Friendship knows no boundaries
To imagine that friendships cross the boundaries of different species is a soothing and wonderful thought. Cetaceans aren’t newcomers in this field and Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are particularly gregarious. In the Bahamas they interact with resident Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) and are thought to adapt their vocalisations to those of their smaller counterparts. In Madeira we have seen them interact with a variety of different cetaceans with their most frequent and peaceful interactions occurring with Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus).
One of the most impressive interactions I heard of was documented during the first episode the wonderful BBC series, Blue Planet II. Here, David Attenborough elegantly conducts a narrative on a pod of Bottlenose dolphins approaching a herd of False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) off the coast of North Island, New Zealand. Scientists and naturalists were able to capture an encounter of a huge pod of around 150 False killer whales with a school of Bottlenose dolphins containing young calves. As the animals encounter one another, they intermingle as if “greeting each other like old friends”.This is surprising, since False killer whales are notorious for harassing and even killing other cetaceans, very much like their namesakes, the Orcas (Orcinus orca).
Yet, these individuals seem to recognise one another and may even have formed long-lasting relationships. After initial interactions the two species begin to swim in formation as they go in search of shoals of large fish. This unusual alliance decreases the search area required per animal and the abundant fish in these waters means that competition amongst the animals is not a problem. Moreover, they acquire safety in numbers against mutual enemies; Orcas and Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). Hunting advantages and protection are two possible reasons why Bottlenose dolphins are thought to team up with Pilot whales around Madeira and associations with False Killers have also been observed here.
These cetaceans set a wonderful example for coexistence. Sometimes our false sense of empathy confuses trapping these animals, keeping them “safe” from all the threats in the ocean, with friendship and protection. This leads us to separating them from the environment they thrive in; that certainly cannot be considered as friendship. There are, however, countless stories of humans genuinely befriending animals, where boundaries are respected and the protection of the species is facilitated. Jane Goodall is a beacon of hope for primate populations, Rob Stewart remains the echoing voice for shark protection while Ric O’Barry has dedicated his life to protecting dolphins from exploitation.
Knowledge is key; we are more likely to save the species we appreciate on our planet by understanding how they thrive in their natural environment and how we affect this existence. Then, it’s all about coexisting and we can learn how to do this from individuals like Goodall, Stewart and O’Barry. I think the mentioned cetaceans show that coexistence is indeed possible.
By Paula Thake