Dolphins Exhibit Unending Compassion


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.




Wondergressive: Morality in Animals

Wondergressive: The Profound Intelligence and Intuition of Elephants

Wondergressive: Animals are Just as Conscious as Us

Wondergressive: Birds Mourn Their Dead

BBC Nature: Dolphins Try to Save Dying Companion

Marine Mammal Science: An Unusual Case of Care Giving Behavior

Understand Dolphin: Brain and Intelligence 

Youtube: Dolphins Looking into Mirrors

Huffington Post: Divers Rescue Dolphin After it Asks for Help

Dolphin Gangs

io9: Biologists and Dolphins Have Created the First Interspecies Language 

Science Direct: SETI Meets a Social Intelligence

Save The Whales: Cases of Dolphins Rescuing Humans 



Belly Buttons: Bacteria Wonderland!

bacteria of the belly button

Petri dishes of belly button bacteria
Photo Credit: Neil McCoy

A recent study published in PLOS ONE has guided us to a greater knowledge of which bacteria are commonly found in belly buttons. The Smithsonian article on the study sums it up pretty well, saying:

A team of researchers dug into 60 different people’s belly buttons and turned up bacterial diversity and microbial mystery. All in all, they identified more than 2,000 species of bacteria as well as two species of archaea, the ancient predecessors of bacteria. Some of the species frequently occurred in multiple belly buttons, while others were confined to just a few participants.

Microbe World, a website dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding of key microbiological issues, gives a little insight as to where archaea are normally found stating that:

Archaea comes from the Greek word meaning “ancient.” An appropriate name, because many archaea thrive in conditions mimicking those found more than 3.5 billion years ago. Back then, the earth was still covered by oceans that regularly reached the boiling point — an extreme condition not unlike the hydrothermal vents and sulfuric waters where archaea are found today.

Some scientists consider archaea living fossils that may provide hints about what the earliest life forms on Earth were like, and how life evolved on our planet.

So, various bacteria, including previously unknown bacteria, and two archaea were found in a small range of North American belly buttons.  But the researchers aren’t finished yet.  In a guest blog on Scientific American, Rob Dunn, the study’s lead author, talks of a future research plan saying:

Instead of the 66 samples we included in our first paper, or the 300 we have now, we will soon have over 600 samples of people processed, people from all over North America. With this variety, we may well begin to explain the differences among people in terms of the intimate forests of their umbilicus. On the other hand, we may still be unable to account for our differences; it may be that part of what determines who lives on you is stochastic, a fancy scientific word for what happens when fate and the universe’s contingencies come together in your navel.

Carl Zimmer, another scientist working with the project talks of his results in a blog post on the Discover website. He had a very diverse spread of bacteria in his belly button and 17 bacteria that were not found in any of the other subjects.

I know that diversity can make ecosystems work better. One of the most important services that our microbial ecosystem performs for us is protecting us from pathogens. They can outcompete invaders, kill them with poisons, and otherwise ward them off. Scientists have run experiments to test the effect of diversity on infections. They manipulated mice so that some had no resident bacteria, and others had low levels of diversity. The researchers found that pathogens did a better job of invading low-diversity mice than high-diversity ones.

Several of the bacteria found in people’s navels had never been found on humans before and Zimmer discusses some of the bacteria found in his navel in his blog post saying:

Several species I’ve got, such as Marimonas, have only been found in the ocean before. I am particular baffled that I carry a species called Georgenia. Before me, scientists had only found it living in the soil.


In Japan.

Belly buttons aren’t the only place where thriving biomes are being discovered. Scientists have discovered a mobile ecosystem that lives in freezing temperatures. The world is so intriguing! Life is everywhere!


Sources and Extra Reading for the Curious:

PLOS ONE- A Jungle in There: Bacteria in Belly Buttons are Highly Diverse, but Predictable

The Smithsonian- A Flourishing Microbial Community Dwells Within Your Belly Button

The Scientist- Navel Bugs

Microbe World- Archaea 

Scientific American – After 2 Years Scientists Still Can’t Solve Belly Button Mystery, Continue Navel-Gazing

Discover- Discovering my microbiome: “You, my friend, are a wonderland”

Wondergressive- The Secret World of Bacteria

Wondergressive- New Ecosystem Discovered: Glacier Mice

Wondergressive- Life, It’s All Over the Place

Wondergressive- 2800 Year Old Lake Life Survives in Complete Isolation