Grieving Mother Dolphin Seen Carrying Her Dead Calf

The wild bottlenose dolphin was seen carrying her deceased calf near Bay of Islands in New Zealand. New Zealand Department of Conservation

Just as the world was beginning to heal from the tragedy of the orca mother who carried her deceased calf for nearly three weeks, a mourning dolphin mother has been reported off the coast of New Zealand carrying her dead calf in a similar funeral-style manner.

The female bottlenose dolphin was first seen carrying her calf, suspected of being stillborn, on January 29. According to the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC), the mother is displaying "maternal bond behavior" often exhibited in marine mammals, including vocalizing to her calf and carrying it on her back.

“The mother is grieving and needs space and time to do this. The Bay of Islands is a busy place in summer with a lot of activity in and around the water. This female needs everyone on the water to give her the extra space and respect she needs whilst she copes with her loss,” said Catherine Peters, DOC senior ranger biodiversity, in a statement.

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The mother has been seen frequently dropping her calf as she tries to swim before circling back to retrieve it. Other dolphins in her pod have separated from her a few times, leaving her at risk of predators and marine vessels. As such, the DOC ask that people try to avoid the area where she has been spotted.

“If in doubt avoid all dolphin groups in the [area],” said Peters.

Most dolphin mothers in New Zealand will give birth during the summer after a gestation period of about a year. Under normal circumstances, mothers will bond with their babies for about four more years.

It’s not the first time this loving, albeit tragic, behavior has been observed in cetaceans. A common bottlenose dolphin was seen interacting with a dead calf in the Gulf of Ambracia in Greece just two years ago. In 2015, a group of four Atlantic spotted dolphins was observed carrying a dead calf at the surface of the water off the coast of Portugal. Similarly, several wild long-beaked common dolphins in the East Sea were seen supporting a dying comrade, including “attempts to support the stricken individual.”

Indeed, a study published last year in Zoology suggests that whales and dolphins do mourn, care for, attend, and even become aroused by dead or dying members of the same species. 

[H/T: New Zealand Herald

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