New insights into dolphin family life

Scenes in a new BBC documentary suggest that dolphins meet to greet new babies and give their young fishing lessons

Online PR News – 01-November-2010 – – A documentary showing on BBC2 at 8pm on Wednesday 3 November takes the closest screen look yet at what happens when a new baby is born into a dolphin family, including a greet-the-newborn event, a kidnap attempt and what looks to be a fishing tutorial.

By using the latest in miniature HD cameras , the makers of THE DOLPHINS OF SHARK BAY were able to capture many scenes of dolphin family life never seen before on tv, such as the first hours of a calf’s life, how families work together to protect new-borns from shark attacks and the variety of clever hunting techniques, among them ‘aquaplaning’.

But the sequences which have stunned wildlife scientists are those which point to dolphins being even more self-aware than was already known from the many other examples of their high intelligence. These revelatory sequences include:
• an unusual gathering where unrelated females gather to greet a newborn,
• an older calf apparently giving the infant a lesson in how to fish
• hints that expectant mothers ‘sing’ to their unborn babies

All of the footage was shot in Shark Bay, Western Australia - a World Heritage Site containing the world’s greatest concentration of bottlenose dolphins and which - under the leadership of Georgetown University Professor Janet Mann – has become the world’s foremost location for dolphin research.

Nick Stringer, who directed the Big Wave Productions film for the BBC2 series NATURAL WORLD says: “Janet Mann and her colleagues have revolutionised what we know about wild dolphins, from how mothers raise their young and families socialise to their incredible variety of hunting methods and the discovery that they are the first marine mammal known to use tools. But even they were awed, and thrilled, by the behaviour we picked up with our cameras, and they’re planning to research many of the revelations further.”

The star of THE DOLPHINS OF SHARK BAY is Puck – one of the first dolphins Janet Mann met when she arrived in Shark Bay and began building a database which now contains profiles of over 1,500 individuals.

Puck leads a family is known as The Beachies, because of their unusual method of hunting by driving fish across the shallows towards the shore.

When the documentary begins, Puck is heavily pregnant with her eighth, and probably last, calf, Samu. But the baby is late and the bay is starting to fill with the thousands of tiger sharks which give the bay its name and which kill many young dolphins each year.

Janet Mann says: “I have followed Puck through her every pregnancy and birth over the last 20 years and we probably know more about Puck than any other wild dolphin. The film not only lets others share the intricacies of dolphin social life, but also their prowess in hunting and other proofs of their extraordinary intelligence.

“Given the complexity and variety of their hunting techniques, we have long hoped to see behaviour that looks like ‘teaching’. It is very hard to capture such rare events but the film shows Samu apparently being taught how to catch small fish by an older calf – his niece - right at the time he was trying out his hunting skills and clearly needed help!”

The DOLPHINS OF SHARK BAY will be shown on BBC2 at 8pm on Wednesday 3 November as part of the BBC’s longest running wildlife documentary series, NATURAL WORLD. The series producer is Steve Greenwood and the series editor is Tim Martin.

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