So long, and thanks for all the fish

In his famous series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams humorously writes that dolphins are extremely intelligent creatures, who use us for entertainment and free fish.  They leave earth right before it gets destroyed, being the only species (besides a few human misfits) to survive demolition for a new spaceway.  He bases this story on a bit of fact, dolphins are one of the smartest animals on earth.  They have an intricate system of communication, and form complex societies.  The stereotype with dolphins is that they are our friendly neighbor in the sea.  They laugh and dance for us at SeaWorld, and mysteriously save shipwrecked sailors during terrible tempests.  But  it turns out dolphins are not as nice as we think.

video was taken in september of a group of bottlenose dolphins murdering a porpoise in Monterey Bay.  Porpoise carcasses have been washing up on shore recently full of scrapes and internal bleeding, but until now, the cause of death was unknown.  The dolphins in question have no purpose for killing  a porpoise– they do not eat them and they do not compete with them for food.  Sea lions are dolphin’s main food competition, yet no sea lion lynchings are occurring.  It seems that our friendly ocean friends are following in our footsteps and becoming more like us than we hoped.

I don’t mean to suggest that dolphins have secret undersea civilizations that will eventually compete with us for world domination (well hey, who knows), but dolphins do show a lot of similarities to human behavior.  For one thing, they are one of the only other mammals that have sex for fun. Misogyny is very prevalent in dolphin culture.  And now, there is proof that dolphins kill for sport.  Up until now, we were the only animal on earth that killed other animals for fun.  It’s a luxury; most animals only spend the minimum amount of energy they can afford, and killing is a grueling activity.  Why are dolphins wasting precious energy killing porpoises that they do not eat and do not pose a threat?

Maybe science will bless us with an answer in a year or two, but for now we can only speculate.  Maybe the high intelligence of the dolphin mind is learning from out behavior, and following in suit.  Maybe the secret dolphin civilizations are racist against porpoises.  Who knows.  But the eeriest part of the story is this: once the dolphins successfully killed the porpoise, they swam the carcass over to the researcher’s boat.  They waited until the scientists pulled the porpoise’s body on board, and then swam away.  It seems like Douglas Adams knew more about dolphins than people thought…


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