Monday, May 20, 2024


Australia: The Island Where Wild Dolphins Come Bearing Gifts

The remote continent is renowned for its unique and often strange wildlife, but one scientific study of dolphins off Tangalooma Island Resort takes the cake.

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If you like seafood, you’ll love what the bottlenose dolphins of Moreton Bay have to offer. This is according to a lengthy scientific study undertaken by two Australian researchers into the behavior of the wild dolphins that frolic in the waters off Tangalooma Island Resort, found on the western edge of Moreton Island.

A true Queensland paradise spread out over 185 square kilometres, 95% of the island is a national park, save for a few patches where small resort communities are found. With ferries operating from nearby Brisbane, the island is a popular spot for camping, hiking, and nature-watching – and of course, enjoying the rare opportunity to swim with dolphins at Tangalooma Resort.

The story of Tangalooma’s dolphins began in the early 1990’s, when the owners of the resort, the Osborne family, started a feeding program, and the playful creatures soon became regular visitors to the resort’s docks. From these humble origins, Tangalooma became a certified dolphin observatory complete with resident marine biologists.

Decades of research collected by the island’s scientists have resulted in fascinating analyses of dolphin behavior, including one very unusual tendancy – gift-giving from dolphins to humans. The researchers, Bonnie Holmes and David Neil, found numerous instances of the cetaceans presenting resort staff and guests with tasty treats like moray eels, squid and an assortment of fish.

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Just what motivates this human-like behavior is, for now, something of a mystery – but the scientists have a few ideas. “Gift giving may occur either as a discreet behavior (that may be a sequel to one or more other behaviors such as play or food preparation), or as a part of other behaviors, such as play and/or food sharing,” suggested the research paper.

They also believed that the feeding of the dolphins through the provisioning program may have inspired the gifts. “It is most likely a manifestation of the particular relationship between the provisioned dolphins and the human participants in the provisioning,” they wrote.

In any case, it’s a beautiful example of animals appearing to reciprocate the warm feelings that their human carers have for them. And according to the scientists, the behavior seems like it is here to stay. “Gift giving has become an established but infrequent part of the culture of the provisioned dolphins at Tangalooma.”

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