Researchers noticed that the young melon-headed whale was being taken care by the bottlenose mother for more than three years in the South Pacific Ocean.
Motherhood is truly one of the greatest feelings in life. It could be for humans, mammals, and every other living being. And now, in a rather 'astonishing' case and for the first time ever recorded, a wild bottlenose dolphin has been found adopting a calf from another species.
According to a Nat Geo report, bottlenose dolphins are very caring mothers who are always protective and playful with their young ones for up to six years. It all happened in 2014 when researchers observed a bottlenose dolphin mother taking care of an unusual-looking male calf, along with the biological calf in the coastal waters off French Polynesia.
The distinction was very evident when the researchers noticed that while most dolphins have slender beaks, the one-month-old baby's beak was short and blunt. And that's when they realized that the young melon-headed whale was being taken care of by the bottlenose mother for more than three years in the South Pacific Ocean. As reported by Independent.
“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 National Geographic. “At the time we were really, really astonished.” Carson also noticed that the whale almost never left his adopted mother’s side.
The study was published in the journal Ethology and the lead authors claimed the foster mother’s “inexperience and personality” could be the reason for the adoption. They also noted that dolphin mother's “persistence in initiating and maintaining an association” with the adoptive mother “could have played a major role in the adoption’s ultimate success”.
Adoption is very rare among wild mammals, and if it happens, it is usually between related members of the same species. However, till date, there has only been one such scientifically documented case that of an adopted orphan of a different species. This was found out by the University of São Paulo primatologist Patrícia Izar in 2006 when she observed a group of capuchins caring for a baby marmoset. “At the time, we were really, really astonished,” she says.
And that's not all. What's even more beautiful about the trio was the whale also competed with its adopted sibling for attention and started behaving like the dolphins. Interestingly enough, the baby whale would also socialize with other young dolphins and join them in surfing and leaping into waves.
"Most likely, it was just a perfect moment for this calf to come along, when [the mother] was at a very receptive period to forming those bonds with her own offspring,” said Kirsty MacLeod, a behavioral ecologist at Lund University in Sweden, who was not involved in the study. “And it led to this slightly wacky situation.”