Dolphins doing drugs (and other underwater debauchery)


Apparently, young dolphins love to get high.

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Dolphins flying high. (Source: CC)

Though this statement has not yet been supported by scientific findings, the BBC One show, “Dolphins: A Spy in the Pod,” used dummy marine animals outfitted with video cameras to observe the natural behavior of dolphins.

The “spy” recorded young dolphins catching and chewing on a pufferfish, passing the toxin-filled fish around to one another. The dolphins then began to act “high”– swimming in loopy circles and gazing at their reflections at the surface.

Puffy and poisonous. (Source: CC)

While one might assume that pufferfish are difficult to light underwater, it is speculated that the young dolphins chew on the fish to consume its toxin, which in small doses can produce a narcotic effect. The adorable fish fill themselves with water to “puff” up when they feel threatened, filling up with the toxin tetrodotoxin. Roughly a thousand times more deadly to humans than cyanide, an antidote to tetrodotoxin has yet to be discovered. Tetrodotoxin can sometimes be lethal to fish, but to dolphins, it seems that the toxin is more titillating than deadly.

Humans and dolphins sharing a special bond. (Source: Georgia Aquarium)

Humans have been fascinated by the intelligence and personality of dolphins, but there seems to be a disconnect between the respect for these creatures in the wild and national security interests. Since militaries started using sonar technology, there has been an increase in the strandings of dolphins and whales. Scientists speculate that the animals, who normally rely on echolocation to navigate vast distances, become confused and misled by the sonar, in some cases trapping or beaching themselves in locations that they would normally not travel to. Dolphins also rely on acoustics to mate and communicate, and sonar can disrupt these patterns.

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Just trying to communicate. (Source: CC)

The more scientists learn about dolphins, the more we are confronted with the enormity of their intelligence. From chewing on pufferfish to utilizing advanced navigational skills, these creatures must be protected from human action that threatens their fragile ecosystem. Environmental groups are currently protesting the U.S. Navy’s use of sonar in critical dolphin mating areas, hoping to address one human activity that has a profound impact on the animal. To be responsible caretakers of the oceans we must continue to learn about marine animals, and adjust our practices in the ocean to ensure they have a presence in the oceans for years to come.

Jill Goatcher is a senior politics major and marine biology minor. She can be reached at or on Twitter @WklyJGoatcher.


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