It may be the dream of many an animal lover to swim with whales or dolphins in the open water as a way of connecting with our ocean-faring mammal counterparts, but it turns out that those two species actually enjoy some quality time with one another, too. In recent years off the coast of Hawaii, biologists recorded several incidents of what appears to be wild humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins getting together for some playful roughhousing at sea -- behavior which researchers say is extremely rare to see, but which suggests an interspecies warmness often not seen in humans.
The American Museum of Natural History's Science Bulletin recently outlined the unusual lift-and-slide type game whales and dolphins have been observed enjoying in the wild, describing the discovery as the first of its kind between the two species:
Many species interact in the wild, most often as predator and prey. But recent encounters between humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins reveal a playful side to interspecies interaction. In two different locations in Hawaii, scientists watched as dolphins "rode" the heads of whales: the whales lifted the dolphins out of the water, and then the dolphins slid back in. The two species seemed to cooperate in the activity, and neither displayed signs of aggression or distress. Whales and dolphins in Hawaiian waters often interact, but playful social activity such as this is extremely rare between species. These are the first recorded examples of this type of behavior.
Researchers first reported on the two incidents described above in a 2010 issue of Aquatic Mammals Journal, commenting that "understanding the dynamics of these interactions can provide insight into the behavior and ecology of those species involved."
While the debate may rage on in some circles wether animals are sentient beings capable of experience emotions as we understand them, among whales and dolphins the answer seems clear. The play behavior exhibited above hints at a level of empathy towards a member of another species that too few humans possess -- particularly as we continue threatening to spoil all their fun.