Kidnapping of a newborn

by Jörn Selling

Text: Joern Selling, Fotos: Sebastian Kanzler

On the 5th of May around 16:15 with levante of 4 Bf. we first observed a pod of 5 pilot whales near the boat – two calves approached the boat several times and also dove below it. Then we spotted a group of bottlenose dolphins about 200 meters away swimming towards us. There were also a few pilot whales among them.

Suddenly, two bottlenose dolphins headed straight towards our bow and there was a tiny calf swimming between them: It was a pilot whale baby and we could tell that it was only a few days old as the folds in the skin (birth stripes) caused by the confinement inside the mother previous to birth were still visible.

We had never seen such a fast pilot whale calf before; it was basically carried by the pectoral fins of the bottlenose dolphins and by the suction that developed between them. Two pilot whale cows immediately took up pursuit, so the kidnapping must have happened just a moment ago. Our boat was lying still, the propellers were not rotating and the whole scene took place around our boat.

Kidnapper with pilot whale calf Jumping bottlenose dolphin during kidnapping

It would have been easy for the bottlenose dolphins to get away with the kidnapped baby since the pilot whale cows were not fast enough, but the dolphins kept swimming in circles. Then a third bottlenose dolphin joined the kidnapper duo and more and more pilot whales arrived at the scene to help. After two minutes of chasing the pilot whales were able to get the calf back; they approached the dolphins from two sides and cut them off. They took the calf immediately in the middle and then lay still in the water so that it could get some rest. There was a lot of tweeting and communicating going on.

We drifted a little longer in the waves until the group of pilot whales swam away and then we drove back to Tarifa; there were pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins everywhere, some also surfing in the waves.

On the way back many asked themselves “what the heck was going on with these bottlenose dolphins?” Pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar usually get along very well with each other and I assume that it only was a game. Maybe two young female dolphins found the baby pilot whale just too cute and “borrowed” him for a while…

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