The first thing to know is that dolphins can be divided into two groups, and those groups are ”spongers” and ”non-spongers.” The non-spongers are the dolphins that are probably the ones you think about when you have occasion to think about dolphins: smooth, sleek, nimbly darting through the water.
But the spongers! The spongers are slightly less physically nimble, but possibly much more intellectually nimble, than their fellow cetaceans. And that’s because, as they swim, they carry sea sponges in their beaks—an activity that may help to protect their sensitive snouts from sharp rocks, stingrays, urchins, and other things that might plague them, particularly as they forage for food along the seafloor. Dolphin sponging is a recent discovery: In 1997, scientists observed a group of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins engaging in the practice in Shark Bay, off the coast of Australia.
The behavior, Justin Gregg notes in his book Are Dolphins Really Smart?, has since been traced back to approximately 180 years ago, to a single female who has been nicknamed “Sponging Eve.” Scientists now believe that more than 60 percent of all female dolphins in the area practice sponging. And while the behavior seems to be transmitted for the most part along mother-daughter lines, as many as half of the males born to “spongers” in the area grow up to become spongers, too.
Read more. [Image: Hugh Pearson/Naturepl.com]
Today’s strangest headlines in global defense news come courtesy of the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which reports, based on a tip from an anonymous aquarium employee, that the Russian Navy has enlisted the Ukrainian military’s dolphins. Ukraine’s sea lions have also “become Russian,” since they, like the dolphins, are housed and trained in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, territory now claimed and controlled by Russia.
Amid the Ukrainian army’s withdrawal from the southern peninsula, some are interpreting the marine-mammal annexation as a coup de grâce—the “final act of humiliation,” as The Independent put it. But this overlooks the fact that Ukraine was never all that thrilled with the combat-dolphin program it inherited from the Soviet Union.
In fact, the Ukrainian Navy was reportedly planning to shutter its program next month.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
A bottlenose has exhibited “the most durable social memory ever recorded for a non-human.”
Read more. [Image: Shutterstock/ZeePicsStudio]
Once in a while, very — very — rarely, dolphins will abandon their standard serenity and go on a romp that we humans refer to, aptly, as a “stampede.” The phenomenon, which involves sub-pods joining together into one splashy social — and which does indeed resemble the crowd dynamics of wild horses — is an amazing sight: The creatures, choreographed in a synchronized system that would put our own social networks to shame, leap and churn and leap some more in frenzied-yet-graceful unison.
This stunning video footage is so crisp and clear that skeptical commenters believe it’s computer generated. Mark Peters insists it’s real — he shot it with a cheap HD GoPro camera in a DIY plastic “torpedo” case, designed to document his tuna fishing expedition off the coast of Santa Cruz. The strange contraption attracted the attention of a pod of dolphins, who decided to tag along for a bit.