Whale of a Party

Alexander Wilson was studying the behaviour of sperm whales in the northern Atlantic Ocean – yep, just another day at the office – when he made an unexpected discovery. Hanging out with this particular pack of whales was a bottlenose dolphin. And judging by its interactions – swimming with the whales, nuzzling them, and just generally hobnobbing with them – it was pretty clear to Alexander that they were buds.

Sperm whales don’t usually socialize with other species. At least that’s what scientists have thought. Alexander, an ecologist originally from Toronto, has another theory: “It may not be that sperm whales don’t normally do this type of behaviour, it may be that sperm whales don’t necessarily often encounter another species that would desire such a relationship,” he says in this news story.

Why this friend, and why now? Alex has an idea about that, too. The dolphin has a malformed spine and may have been bullied or rejected by its own kind. The sperm whales seem more than happy to step in as besties.

“It was pretty amazing,” Alex told me. “No had ever seen sperm whales interacting with another species in a non-aggressive or defensive way before, so it was quite lucky to be able to see such an interaction happening before my eyes.”

You can see through his eyes, too: Click on this video for three and a half minutes of cetaceous fraternizing. There are worse ways to start off your morning.

Is that considered a nostrum nuzzle, or a flute high-five? Can you tell I’ve been reading up on my cetacean physiology? PHOTO BY ALEXANDER D. M. WILSON/AQUATIC MAMMALS

Is that considered a nostrum nuzzle, or a flute high-five? Can you tell I’ve been reading up on my cetacean physiology? PHOTO BY ALEXANDER D. M. WILSON / AQUATIC MAMMALS

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