‘Whales’ And Dolphins May Work Together

Posted by on October 9, 2013 in Sci-Tech, Science with 0 Comments

Anna Salleh | ABCnet | Oct 10th 2013

WhaleFalse killer whales and bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand form long-term partnerships that might help them fend off predators or find food, researchers suggest.

Masters student Jochen Zaeschmar, and colleagues, from Massey University’s Coastal-Marine Research Group, report their findings in a recent issue of Mammal Review.

“There is a long-term association between, not just the two species, but between actual individuals,” says Zaeschmar.

False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are actually a rare type of dolphin that are sometimes found together with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

But, until now there has been little research to investigate whether this association is just a matter of coincidence, or whether there issomething more to it.

“The first time I ever saw them together I was intrigued straight away because it seemed to be not random,” says Zaeschmar. “They were so happy in each others’ company. It was almost like it was one species.”

False killer whales are three times the volume and two times the length of bottle nose dolphins and are jet black rather than grey.

Fin identification system

In a study spanning 17 years and 700 kilometres of territory in New Zealand waters, Zaeschmar and colleagues studied the movements of 61 false killer whales and 200 bottle nose dolphins, identifying individual animals by unique markings on their fins.

“There are nicks and notches and cuts in the backs of their fin that they accumulate over time – and they’re permanent,” says Zaeschmar. “We produced an identification catalogue for each species.”

The study was challenging, with researchers having to get up close to take photos of the fins while the animals were moving in the open ocean.

But the findings have been worth the trouble.

“Not only are we seeing the same whales over and over again, but also the same dolphins,” says Zaeschmar.

“They basically do everything together. They feed together, they travel together, they rest together. We have not seen any physical state where they have not been together.”

The animals also have physical contact and have been known to produce viable hybrids in captivity.

“It’s a pretty exciting thing that these relationships last much longer than we thought,” says Zaeschmar.

Safety in numbers

Zaeschmar offers a number of theories as to why this long-term association exists.

One idea is that there is safety in numbers – the more individuals there are in a group, the more eyes there are looking out for predators, and if a predator does come, the less chance there is of any one individual being chosen.

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