Friday feel good story – Enter Dolphins

All you really need to for an AWWW moment is a small child doing something cute or and animal doing something very special, in this case a Dolphin. There are countless accounts of animals committing selfless acts to come to the aid of Humans. The following story comes from the the book Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist (Chicago University Press, 2012). Written by Maddalena Bearzi and happened just up the coast near LA.

Bottlenose dolphin school foraging along the Los Angeles coastline. (Photograph by Maddalena Bearzi, Ocean Conservation Society)

Maddalena and her team were studying the social interactions of dolphin off the coast of LA. The pod they were filming was feeding in a circle, when they noticed an individual break away and head out to deeper water. An instant later the rest of the school broke away from their meal and followed suit.

Accustomed to their normal feeding patterns, the team was a little stunned and decided to pursue the school and record this unusual behavior. The Dolphin group increased pace and the bemused researchers accelerated to keep. Around three miles out to sea, the dolphin had stopped and were circling a dark object floating on the water.

On closer examination the researchers realized that it was the lifeless body of a girl. The girl was pallid, blonde and fully clothed. As the boat approached the girl managed to turn her head and half raise a hand in a weak sign for help.

Contrary to the lifeguard instructions the researchers decided to pull the girl from the water. As they raced her back to Marina Del Rey, they removed her wet clothing and took turns at huddling under a blanket with her, to try and warm her hypothermic body.

The girl looked around eighteen and appeared to be attempting to communicate in a language the researchers could not make out. Around her neck she had tied a plastic bag containing her passport and a hand written note. Near shore they handed the girl over to the coast guard and followed them into shore and on to the local hospital emergency room.

As it transpires,  the girl was vacationing in L.A. from Germany and was attempting suicide. Had the dolphins not intervened and lead the quick thinking scientists to her lifeless body, she would most certainly have died.

As a researcher, Maddalena can’t help but think what might have happened if they had not followed the dolphins. Might they have tried to save her? There are numerous anecdotal stories of dolphins saving human lives, by guiding them to safety, attacking sharks or keeping them afloat until help arrives.

The scientific community is reluctant to buy into these anecdotal accounts as they are not  supported by hard evidence. However, Maddalena is possibly one step closer to giving these accounts some credence. The plural of anecdote is not evidence, but at some point these numerous stories must go beyond coincidence…

Maddalena Bearzi is President and Co-founder of the Ocean Conservation Society, and Co-author of Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins (Harvard University Press, 2008; paperback 2010). She has studied the ecology and conservation of marine mammals for over twenty-five years and also works as a photo-journalist and blogger for several publications. This account comes from her most recent publication.

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