Dolphins Have Adopted Orphans Of Other Species, According To Scientists

By lheidi - August 12, 2019

Dolphins are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. We want to think of them as giant fish who are just really adorable and really friendly, but they’re so much more than that. They’re not even fish. They’re mammals. Anyone who’s seen a dolphin show at Sea World knows that they’re capable of doing way more than humans could ever do. Can you do flips like that? Can you jump through a ring? We can’t. That makes dolphins a lot more flexible, a lot smarter, and a lot better than humans. We concede that dolphins are by far the superior creature.

But it turns out that even though we already knew that dolphins are better than us, they continue to surprise us with just how smart they continue to be. It turns out that dolphins have been low key adopting orphans this whole time and we never knew about it.

Mom And Pop


Dolphins aren’t just good luck to sailors. It turns out, they’re also pretty good parents.

Bottlenose dolphins have been known to be very attentive parents to their young calves, taking care of them as they grow up.

But bottlenose dolphins don’t just make good parents to their own children. Scientists have just found out that bottlenose dolphins also have been known to adopt children. You read that right, bottlenose dolphins will take in the young from other animals.



Scientists have finally observe a bottlenose dolphin taking in an orphan from another species and raising it as if it were one of her own calves.

It turns out that people aren’t the only animals that take in others and add them to their family.

It’s pretty beautiful to know that this mamma dolphin saw that another young animal was in need and decided to take it in, much like a human would do with an orphaned child.

Forever Home


Researchers spent three years tracking a female bottlenose dolphin who raised a a melon-headed whale calf.

The bottlenose dolphin also was busy raising her own calf that she gave birth to, but had no problem with adding the whale calf to her family.

We wonder if the whale calf knew that he was adopted, or if they had to have a difficult conversation with him when he was a teenager. He must wonder why he looks different.

Once In A Blue Moon

It turns out, it’s pretty rare for an animal to take in another animal and raise it as their own.

This is actually only the second time scientists have ever noticed one animal taking in an orphan.

In 2006, scientists found that two capuchin monkey mothers were raising a baby marmoset, but this is the only other example of cross-genus adoption observed in the wild. It’s so cute to know that they took that little guy in.

Twice As Nice


Bottlenose dolphins usually give birth to one calf at a time. They’ll then take care of that one calf for the next six years.

It actually ends up putting a lot of constraint on the mother bottlenose dolphin to take care of two offspring at the same time, so it makes it even more meaningful that this mamma dolphin took in the baby whale.

We hope that there wasn’t too much sibling rivalry between the two children.

Very Surprising

The scientists were surprised to see the bottlenose dolphin take in an orphan in need.

“A female who, in addition to her own calf, takes care of a heterospecific [from a different species] baby, is something very surprising,” said lead researcher Pamela Carzon, who works at the Groupe d’Étude des Mammifères Marins (GEMM) in Tiputa, French Polynesia.

We’re wondering if this trend is going to catch on and we’ll see more animals adopt other animals, too.

Kid Stuff


Bottlenose dolphins aren’t known to adopt other species, but they have been known to “kidnap” them.

Sometimes, calves from other species are taken by female bottlenose dolphins who can’t raise their own calves. They end up disappearing shortly after.

But the bottlenose dolphin that researchers witnessed is completely different from this because the bottlenose dolphin already had her own calf to take care of. She’s wasn’t just a dolphin who wanted to have a baby but couldn’t.

Sure Enough


The researchers have said that it’s not likely the whale calf was kidnapped by the dolphin.

They also don’t think that the whale is some kind of new dolphin-whale hybrid, although they don’t have the genetic testing to prove it. We kind of want to see a paternity test just to be sure.

Although, if the whale was kidnapped, it can just give us a hand signal to let us know. Is it okay? Does it need help?

Looks Like It


The scientists described the whale orphan, and all signs point to it being another species, and not a differently shaped dolphin.

“The second calf was documented as male; it possessed a slender profile, rounded head and blunt rostrum, pointed pectoral fins, dark pigmentation and whitish patterns between the throat and urogenital area – all morphological characteristics of a melon‐headed whale,” said the scientists.

If it looks like a whale and acts like a whale, then it’s a whale.

One Year Later


One year after the adopted whale was discovered, scientists found that it was still living with its foster family.

The whale calf was nursing from it’s dolphin mom, and it was also swimming in what’s typically considered an infant position beneath the female dolphin.

The whale calf and the dolphin calf must have had a bit of a sibling rivalry going on, because the whale calf was even seen pushing the dolphin calf away from their mom.

Gone Baby


Their sibling rivalry must have gotten out of hand, because the researchers later observed that the dolphin calf went missing.

Just the whale calf was seen following the mother dolphin around, and yet, her biological child was nowhere in sight.

They think that the dolphin calf didn’t get enough care from his mother because of the competition that was going on between the two marine mammals. Talk about going too far. We hope that dolphin is okay.

No Explanation


This family was very confusing to researchers. They hadn’t really seen anything like it before.

“It is very difficult to explain such behaviour, especially since we have no information on how the melon-headed whale newborn was separated from his natural mother,” said a researcher.

In other words, they don’t know how the unusual family was formed, they just know that it existed. There is no orphanage for dolphins to go and adopt children from other species.

Possible Beginnings


Still, scientists have their theories as to how this family might have come into existence.

They think that it might be because the bottlenose dolphin was inexperienced as a mother. They also think that it might be because her friendliness towards human divers made her friendly towards other species of marine life as well.

It’s completely possible that the whale calf was kidnapped by a different dolphin, but this dolphin happened to be the one to raise it.

Good Timing


Ultimately, the researchers thing that good timing might have played a part in the unique situation.

“Most likely, it was just a perfect moment for this calf to come along, when [the mother] was at a very receptive period to forming those bonds with her own offspring, and it led to this slightly wacky situation,” Kirsty MacLeod, a behavioural ecologist at Lund University told National Geographic. 

Doesn’t everything in life just boil down to good timing? Even dolphin adoption?

Baby Blues


It turns out, the mother dolphin might not even be the one who initiated the family.

The researchers notices that the whale calf was very persistent in creating and continuing the family. He even scared his non-biological sibling away from their mom.

So it could have just been that the whale calf came up to the mother and crashed the family and then just wouldn’t leave, then the dolphin mom just let him tag along for the ride.

Act Like A Dolphin


No matter how he got there, it seems like the whale is adapting to dolphin life pretty well.

“It seems the young melon-headed whale has been well integrated into his adoptive community, and adopts behaviour consistent with those of his adopted group,” said a researcher.

“[H]e surfs and jumps with the bottlenose dolphins, he socialises with young bottlenose males and females, and seems to communicate with other members of the community.” He’s just one of the dolphin gang.

What A Life


And when the whale calf becomes a whale adult, he’ll probably end up living the life of a dolphin, and not the life of a whale.

“If he comes to the age of weaning, it’s very likely that he’ll live a bottlenose dolphin life,” said the researcher.

How cute is that? A whale who thinks he’s a dolphin? That sounds like the beginning of an inspirational animal movie right there. That’s something we want to see for sure.