Mother Dolphin Adopted and Reared Whale Calf

The bottlenose mother, pictured here with her adoptive whale calf and biological daughter, exhibited unusually tolerant behavior (Photo by Pamela Carzon/Groupe d’Étude des Mammifères Marins)

Researchers Document First Known Case of Dolphin Mom Adopting Whale Calf

by Meilan Solly

Until recently, the only scientifically documented case of interspecies adoption among wild mammals dated to 2006, when primatologist Patrícia Izar spotted a group of capuchin monkeys raising a baby marmoset as one of their own.

Now, a new study published in the journal Ethology offers a second example of the rare phenomenon. As Erica Tennenhouse reports for National Geographic, scientists led by Pamela Carzon of the Groupe d’Étude des Mammifères Marins (GEMM) de Polynésie observed a bottlenose dolphin caring for a young melon-headed whale over a period of more than three years. This apparent adoption, unusual in and of itself, was made all the more striking by the fact that the bottlenose already had a biological baby; typically, dolphin mothers only care for one calf at a time.

The intimate interspecies relationship began when the male calf was roughly one month old and ended when he presumably weaned in April 2018. Interestingly, Carzon and her colleagues note, the dolphin mother’s attachment to her adoptive son endured long beyond her bond with the slightly older biological daughter.

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  1. Interesting article. Over the years of watching many animal documentaries I have seen many instances of inter species adoption, a common one been cats and dogs, but this is a first for me. Wow cool!☺

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