Bottlenose Dolphins & Harbour Porpoise Form An Unlikely Friendship While Swimming & Playing In The Waters Off Cornwall, England

Photo from ORCA’s Instagram 

Wildlife watchers in Cornwall are being urged to help ORCA by looking out for a very unusual marine pairing spotted off the North Cornish coast.

According to the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to studying and protecting whales, dolphins, and porpoises in UK and European waters, in the past ten days, there have been two separate sightings of bottlenose dolphins swimming and interacting with a lone harbour porpoise, who seems to have joined up with their pod.

While not exactly sworn enemies, bottlenose dolphins often aggressively attack their smaller harbour porpoise cousins, often playing with them like a football, launching them into the air and eventually killing them. However, in this case, the small porpoise and the larger dolphins seem to have teamed up, enjoying acrobatic games and swimming between Newquay and St Ives. The porpoise was even copying the dolphin’s familiar forward leaps, which is very unusual.

Photo by Terry Carne, ORCA

Terry Carne, a longstanding ORCA OceanWatcher and Marine Mammal Surveyor, witnessed this very rare pairing in Newquay on March 2nd, while he was conducting his daily ORCA OceanWatchers survey from shore.

“I saw 2 bottlenose dolphins coming in towards land, which were the first I’d seen at Newquay for a long time. As they got a little nearer, I thought there was a third, all breaching, but realized that one was in fact a porpoise,” Carne said in a statement. “I assumed that the porpoise was trying to escape, and when I saw it leap in the air, I thought the bottlenose had struck it. But what I saw was the porpoise breaching with the dolphins, initially forward leaps, before seeing it jump high in the air.”

Just six days later, the same dolphins were spotted near St Ives, again with their smaller porpoise buddy tagging along.

“The pairing up of these two different species is highly unusual,” noted Lucy Babey, Head of Science and Conservation at ORCA, further explaining that while they share the same habitat, porpoises tend to steer clear of dolphins.

“We recently learned about an orca named Sædís in west Iceland that had seemingly adopted a new-born long-finned pilot whale, even though orcas and pilot whales also chase and antagonize each other. There has been a lot of speculation around whether this was aggressive adoption or if the calf had been abandoned, but it does show the empathy that animals have for different species,” concluded Babey.

ORCA is appealing to marine wildlife enthusiasts in Cornwall to download its OceanWatchers app and to look out for the trio and see if they are still staying together.

The ORCA OceanWatchers program is designed so that everyone can collect data about whales and dolphins in a flexible way, enabling even more people to become an integral part of ORCA’s conservation work. It provides an even greater opportunity to actively monitor important habitats. That way ORCA can continue to inform and shape policy and help create and maintain precious protected areas in UK and European waters.

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