Morality in animals is surprisingly common. Animals of all shapes and sizes have been documented exhibiting moral decision making and selflessness, even when faced with the prospect of pain or even death. As each day passes, studies continue to be released that reveal the profound intelligence and intuition of animals, and the fact that a multitude of species are just as conscious as human beings. While some species of animals are seen mourning their dead or protecting their young, others are seen desperately trying to save the life of other members of their species. Once such animal that exhibits this behavior is the dolphin.
There are dozens of documented cases of dolphins rescuing humans, but for the first time researchers have witnessed an entire group of dolphins attempting to save another dying dolphin. The observation documents a very unusual case of care giving behavior between bottleneck dolphins. Korean scientists saw the attempted rescue take place off the coast of Ulsan, South Korea and were amazed by what they witnessed.
While researchers were documenting a group of more than 500 dolphins they noticed a separate, smaller group of about 12 dolphins swimming very slowly and acting abnormally on the surface of the water. They realized that the group was attempting to save the life of one of their companions. The injured dolphin seemed to have paralyzed fins and red marks on its abdomen. Individual dolphins kept the injured dolphin afloat by pushing its body upwards while a group of 10 or so dolphins formed a living raft as support.
Five dolphins at a time lined up horizontally into a raft-like formation, maintaining it while the stricken dolphin moved on top and rode on their backs. One of the dolphins in the raft even flipped over its body to better support the ailing dolphin above, while another used its beak to try to keep the dying dolphin’s head up. A few minutes later the stricken dolphin appeared to die, its body hanging vertically in the water, with its head above the surface. It wasn’t breathing.
Even after the injured dolphin died its companions continued to blow bubbles into it as if attempting resuscitation. Other members of the group rubbed and touched the dead dolphin’s body in seeming distress.
It is well known that dolphins are an incredibly intelligent and self-aware species. Not only do they fully recognize themselves and make faces in the mirror, they have also been observed asking for help from human divers while injured. Dolphins have also been seen regularly using sponges as tools while foraging, which is believed to have originated from a single spontaneous innovation (their version of the wheel) and has spread to subsequent generations for the last 100 years or more. They are additionally a very community driven species, forming gangs, tribes, and alliances that guard females against other tribes. The varying tribes have frequently been seen persuading other tribes to end old alliances and form new ones. These groups form the social foundation of dolphin society.
One of the most incredible aspects of dolphin intelligence is that despite humans not understanding their complex language, dolphins have an unparalleled comprehension of human language, even our syntax. They are natural chatters, engaging in communication with several different species other than humans.
Dolphins are incredibly self aware beings that deserve greater recognition and compassion- they certainly don’t mind sharing their compassion with us.
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