The Inner Life of Dolphins
Experiments in dolphinariums revealed the amazing cognitive abilities of marine mammals early on. However, it is only decades of observations in the wild that reveal the complex social structure in which these intelligent animals live.
It's almost eight o'clock in the evening and our ship is anchored in the turquoise waters of the Bahamas. The Wild Dolphin Project crew is preparing for the end of the day when the lookout reports sightings of Atlantic spotted dolphins (sternella frontalis). A small flock approaches our boat: two adult females with four young. We go into the water to film them. A short time later, the two mother animals swim away and leave us alone with the offspring. They only reappear after a good ten minutes, pick up the young animals and leisurely return with them to the large group.
I remember this episode a few years ago very well. I thought it was quite strange at the time that wild animals should place their young under human supervision. Presumably, the females simply assumed that their offspring were not threatened. In fact, we've been observing this group of dolphins for three decades, so animals and researchers alike know and recognize each other.
Since 1985, scientists at the Wild Dolphin Project, led by Denise Herzing, have been following spotted dolphins as well as bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) more than 100 days a year and have collected a considerable amount of data on the lives of these groups. Several hundred individuals can now be distinguished on the basis of certain physical characteristics such as scars or colored spots. DNA analyzes of their excretions reveal which animal fathered which offspring. Dolphins can become "images" for over 40 years, so the team has known some of them since the beginning of the study. alt="
The scientists at the Wild Dolphin Project aren't the only ones doing long-term studies on dolphins…