Got to love those dolphins – unless you are a jellyfish

October 15, 2009 • 2:41 pm

by Matthew Cobb

Here I am preparing tomorrow’s lecture on Cnidaria (pronounced with a silent C) – jellyfish – when I bumped into this video. These are dolphins off the coast of Wales playing in front of a boat, the way they do, in that irritatingly cheerful dolphin way. Then, about 20 seconds into the video, they start using their tails to flip hapless jellyfish floating near the surface, as though they were playing football. I could have saved this for my next Z-letter, but given I decided to show it in tomorrow’s lecture to lighten things up, I thought I’d share it here too. What can you say? The people on the boat think it’s a hoot, and so too, I suspect, do the dolphins…

NB The video has no sound, unfortunately. The BBC site has the video, with the following text: “The bottlenose dolphins were spotted tossing the jellyfish off Tremadog Bay. Jonathan Easter, one of the team said the “incredible images…present more questions than answers!” Footage courtesy of Countryside Council for Wales, Sea Watch Foundation and Marine Awareness North Wales.”

27 thoughts on “Got to love those dolphins – unless you are a jellyfish

  1. Interesting that intelligent dolphins and intelligent primates both tend to be amused at what seems to be petty cruelty (I wonder if jellyfish can really be troubled by it sentiently, however).

    And I mean it. This isn’t a hit at humans laughing at it. The Grimm-like pleasure at cruelty that we rarely admit to seems to be shared with other intelligent primates and with intelligent marine mammals, so I’m wondering if it’s generally to be expected when social animals evolve intelligence.

    Glen Davidson

    1. Not to worry – no central nervous system. Plus, it’s entirely possible that dolphins are sensitive to their stings just as we are.

      1. That isn’t as important as you thin, many cnidarians have surprisingly sophisticated nervous systems. Box jellies even have eyes.

      1. For the sake of joyless, leaden, zoological exactitude, I feel obliged to point out that, of course, neither dolphins nor porpoises nor anemones are fish…

      2. Matthew said
        “For the sake of joyless, leaden, zoological exactitude, I feel obliged to point out that, of course, neither dolphins nor porpoises nor anemones are fish…”

        Are you suggesting that our bad jokes are out of plaice?

  2. The ones in the video look like the blob-like ones I remember as a kid from Chesapeake Bay. To my eye, anyway, Periphylla periphylla (helmet jelly or crown jelly) is far more fascinating specimen; look in Google images. These guys are of considerable interest for their luciferase. They have worldwide distribution, living deep, except in a few fjords in Norway that have shallow inlets, where they’re largely trapped, and wreak havoc on fishing.

    1. I simply showed the video at the beginning of the section on cnidaria, asking facetiously “What are they good for? Playing football according to dolphins.” I was trying to make a joke. I – and Jerry Coyne, the author of the blog and the book of the same name – would argue that evolution in general (ie relating to life) is true, and would also predict that only evolution by natural selection can explain how life first arose, even if we currently have very little solid information about this event, which took place around 4 billion years ago…


  3. I wonder if the dolphins were playing with their food. It would be interesting to know if they ate the jellyfish after they were properly tenderized.
    I do like the idea that the dolphins were targeting the boat and passengers, but, if that were the case, I’m sure that it would have happened.

  4. Anthropomorphizing other species and then trying to apply moral judgments is of little useful value.

    See this discussion on how it might not even apply to humans.

    1. Anthropomorphizing other species and then trying to apply moral judgments is of little useful value.

      Well Duh! They dont got no Jesus thus no morals.

      By the way this kind of behavior isnt restricted to intelligent animals, cats do it too (and killer whales and probably lots and lots of animals with complex neural nets).

      1. Jesus has nothing to do with morals. Most religions lack decent morality. Several animals exhibit behavior that benefits their survival and which some people interpret (erroneously) as morality.

  5. Maybe the dolphins were trying to launch the jellyfish at the humans.

    I live in Wales, and there was an interview with a couple of the marine scientists who were on the boat. They said that on a couple of occasions they were sure a dolphin deliberately aimed at the boat.

  6. Dolphins are not always the friendly creatures humans tend to think of them as. They have been known to attack other members of their species, including females in what we would call a gang attack.

    We used to think chimpanzees were peaceful and gorillas the mean aggressive primates, helped along by the Planet of the Apes series. Now we know it is opretty much just the opposite.

    I guess that one sign of intelligence is organized aggression. Maybe all intelligent beings everywhere are like the ones on this planet. Major sigh.

  7. As for playing with food, I don’t think dolphins eat jellyfish too often, since they’re not especially nutritious for mammals.

    Which also explains why there isn’t much of a jellyfish fishery by humans either.

  8. One thing that intrigues me about Dolphins and marine mammal predators generally is why they don’t attack Humans? You would think that something like an Orca would regard us as a tasty snack. I did wonder if it is because we didn’t evolve alongside them so they don’t see us as prey but that doesn’t work with sharks. When you consider their size and general readiness to hunt and kill all the marine mammals would make short work of a human so what is going on here ?

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