Do whales and dolphins take care of disabled members in their pod?

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In many animal societies a group member born with disabling deformities or having a severe wound becomes a burden to the group and is often left behind. If left behind they normally die of hunger, disease from their wounds or they get killed by predators, however some species of dolphins and whales don’t leave their disabled family members behind. They’ve been seen making friends and adopting other species. This has been seen in Orcas, Humpback dolphins, Sperm whales, Bottlenose dolphins and Humpback whales.

A pod of Orcas in South Africa were seen with a member that was missing both the dorsal fin and one pectoral fin. It was left behind while the rest of the pod hunted a Bryde’s whale. After killing the Bryde’s whale the pod called the disabled member to join and eat. The same behavior has been seen in a pod of Orcas in New Zealand.  While the major part of the pod hunted one member would stay behind with the disabled member to protect it. A scientist that spends hours swimming with the pod was also seen as a good protection and they would leave the disabled Orca alone with her while hunting. In a fjord in Norway an Orca calf got hit by a boat. He lost part of the dorsal fin and injured his back. He was believed to have died, until he returned with another pod a couple of years later. He changes pods and they bring food to him, especially one male were seen keeping boats away from him. It’s believed that he changes pods because he can’t keep up with one pod.

A pod of 8 Humpback dolphins were seen in the waters of china helping a finless porpoise calf to breathe. They took turns pushing the calf up to the surface to breathe and were observed doing this for three hours until the boat returned to land. Humpback dolphins have also been seen adopting other species’ calves. A female Humpback dolphin that lives around Mayotte (island between Mozambican and Madagascar) adopted 2 spinner dolphin calves, one still living with her. In Plettenberg Bay, South Africa a pod of Humpback dolphins were seen with a Bottlenose dolphin calf. The calf came up next to a female that had a 6 months old calf.

Sperm whales around the Azores Island were seen interacting with an adult Bottlenose dolphin that had an S-shapes spine. They were seen rubbing against each other and traveling together. It’s believed that either the Bottlenose dolphin could not keep up with its pod or it had a low social status promoting it to seek other company. This doesn’t mean that Bottlenose dolphins don’t help injured pod members. This individual might have left by itself. One Bottlenose dolphin in New Zealand helped 2 Pygmy Sperm whales out to sea after they were stranded.

In the waters around Maui and Kauai (Hawaii) scientists observed humpback whales and dolphins playing together. The humpback whale lifted its head out of the water with the dolphin resting on the head. The dolphin “rode” the head and then slide down the back of the whale. In both sightings it was clearly not the same dolphin and whale due to the markings on the animals. What they (the scientists) believe is that the dolphins and whale communicate this to others as a fun game to play. Whales and dolphin loves to learn new things. An injured dolphin off the coast of Australia that was taken to a theme park for rehabilitation, saw the dolphins in the pool next to it do tail-walking (the dolphin skipping along the surface on it tail). When she was returned to the ocean she started teaching this to her friends and family and they all join in the new game.

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