Gift giving: Wild dolphins to humans in Australia


On 23 occasions over the past several years, wild dolphins were observed giving gifts to humans at the Tangalooma Island Resort in Australia. The gifts included eels, tuna, squid, an octopus and an assortment of many other types of different fin fish. While these gifts might not be your choice for a gift to find underneath your Christmas tree, some of the items that were offered to humans are highly valued food sources for cetaceans such as dolphins. A report describing this rare form of food sharing behavior in wild dolphins was published on December 4, 2012 in the journal Anthrozoös: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals.

Food sharing is a fairly common behavior among animals of the same species, but it is a much rarer phenomenon between animals that are from different species. Perhaps one of the best known examples of inter-species food sharing occurs in domesticated cats that have a tendency to drop prey items at their owner’s feet. Inter-species food sharing in wild animal populations has not been widely documented in the scientific literature.

There has been one observation of inter-species food sharing in false killer whales, a member of the dolphin family (Delphinidae). During an encounter that National Geographic photographer Flip Nicklin had in Hawaii, a false killer whale swam up to the photographer, released a large mahi mahi from its mouth and backed away. The photographer accepted the gift then, returned the fish to the whale. I suppose that is proper etiquette if a large cetacean offers you food while you’re in the water with it.

Written By: Deanna Conners
continue to source article at


  1. Some dolphins have learned to co-operate with humans in catching fish elsewhere!

    Certain bottlenose dolphins in Laguna, southern Brazil, have apparently taught themselves to work as a team with artisanal fishermen, creating a win-win for both the marine mammals and humans.

    A study on the dolphins, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, has found that the most helpful ones also turn out to be particularly cooperative and social with each other, perhaps explaining why some wild dolphins decide of their own free will to work with humans, while others do not.

    “Through highly synchronized behavior with humans, cooperative dolphins in Laguna drive mullet schools towards a line of fishermen and ‘signal,’ via stereotyped head slaps or tail slaps, when and where fishermen should throw their nets,” wrote lead author Fabio Daura-Jorge of the Federal University of Santa Catarina.with colleagues.

    The effort is not entirely charitable on the part of the dolphins.
    Fish that escape the nets often swim right into the mouths of the dolphins, which have learned to wait for that fulfilling moment.

Leave a Reply