In the Azores, off the coast of Portugal, two behavioral ecologists made a rare find. A dolphin with a spinal deformation has been adopted by a group of sperm whales, a species that has not been known to form relationships with other animals.
The researchers who observed the unusual bond over the course of six days suspect that the dolphin sought the whales’ company for social reasons, rather than for protection, due to the lack of predators in that area of the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the dolphin’s malformation, it may not have been accepted among other bottlenose dolphins, or may have had a low social ranking within its pod prompting it to search elsewhere for company.
The question remaining seems to be the motivation of the sperm whales. While the story is touching, Luke Rendell, behavioral biologist with the University of Saint Andrews, suggests the whales may have simply mistaken the dolphin as a sperm whale calf.
Justin Gregg, scientist with the Dolphin Communications Project, believes that the relationship works because the two species share certain signals, allowing for limited communication. The relationship seems perfect for the dolphin who would not have to work as hard to keep up, as sperm whales are slower swimmers.