Divers save entangled dolphin who seems to ask for help

This heartwarmng video, which has now gone viral (people love stories like this, especially in trouble times), was sent to me by several readers and mentioned by one commenter.

From The Raw Story:

Diving in waters near Hawaii recently, a group of photographers were surprised to see a Bottlenose dolphin swim right up to them seemingly in distress.

As they discovered on the night of Jan. 11, the dolphin had a hook embedded in its mouth and fishing line wrapped around one of its pectoral fins, and it was wound so tightly that it had cut into the creature’s tissue.

Diver and photographer Martina Wing made sure her cameras were rolling when an associate took out a pocket knife and began trying to cut the line away. Amazingly, it did not resist and appeared to be communicating its need for assistance.

Then the dolphin briefly vanished, returning to the surface for air before swimming back down to the divers for more help. It even rolled over to let its new friends get a better angle on the line.

Once they freed the creature from its snare, it sped off into the darkness, leaving behind eight minutes of absolutely incredible video.


At the Raw Story link above you can see television interviews with the divers and woman who made the video.

What do you think? Was the dolphin asking for help? Or was it only tolerating help from the divers? Or did it even know it was being helped? It certainly seemed friendly and gregarious for a while dolphin, but maybe they’re all like that.

The important thing, of course, is that it was saved, but the virulence of the video (is that the right word?) comes from anthropomorphizing: people would like to think that the creature actually knew that the divers could help it.


  1. @eightyc
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink


  2. Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    There was a similar story involving a whale on Radiolab a while back…
    here (video, too): http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2011/aug/01/whale-saying-thank-you/

  3. Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Of course, it is always preferable to learn about a rescue than a death from man made laziness by leaving the equipment in the ocean waters.

    Much of the research about dolphins suggests they are far more intelligent than humans understand.

    If this were a cat or even a dog reaching out for aid, I doubt we would question that these were genuine pleas for help.

    I suppose it’s a matter of choice. I think I will chose to think the animal was accustomed to humans, and in it’s own way reached out for assistance.

  4. Sidd
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Seeing dolphins playing with bubble rings tipped me in the direction of considering them almost sentient.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 27, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      If that word means what its etymology implies, there’s nothing alive that ain’t sentient. Useless word. Try another, I expect it’ll be useless too.
      Dolphins have senses we can barely imagine, bigger brains than we do (absolutely and proportionally), and there are dozens of species that occupy a greater proportion of the planet’s surface than we do. If only they had something to write on!

  5. gbjames
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Personally, I have little doubt that the dolphin was seeking assistance.

    • Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      That it appeared to purposely (porpoisely?) present the injured flipper to the diver, then went up for air and came back, is (I think) strong evidence that it was asking for, and allowing, assistance with an injury. I’ve been SCUBA diving and snorkelling near dolphins and although they will sometimes come over to have a look, I’ve never seen behavior anything like this one – presenting the flipper and then staying relatively still. Dolphins are amazing and intelligent and it is beyond disgusting that mass slaughters of dolphins continue in Japan.

      • Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that is deeply horrible. 😦
        I haven’t dared to watch The Cove because I know I’ll be crying. Any ideas of how to show them our disgust?

  6. pktom64
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Shouldn’t it be “anthropomorphizing”?

  7. DV
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Did the dolphin do this out of its own free will?

  8. Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    “Anthropomorphizing” like “instinct” is pointlessly maligned in the animal behavior world. If we are trying to study complex topics like intentionality, consciousness, and deception, then the only benchmarks we have are human ones. Virtually every study on animal cognition tries to see if the animal can achieve some human-like cognitive capacity, but somehow it’s taboo to use human-like terms to describe the animal’s capacity. As if “cognitively-directed goal-oriented assistance seeking” is somehow more scientific than “the dolphin needed help and knew how to find it”

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink


      • suwise3
        Posted January 25, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink


    • Posted January 24, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      I think it is anthropocentric to use the word “anthropomorphize”…

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 24, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        I really like that. Made me smile and think at the same time.

        • lisa
          Posted January 28, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

          Yes, that was good. May I steal it from you?

    • Posted January 25, 2013 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      Some people cry “athropomorphising” if you call a wild beast’s nutritional habits “eating”.

      Humans are super, duper special, you guys. Srsly.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted January 27, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        In German, for example, there’s a different word for ‘eating’ when animals do it.

        I’ve sometimes joked that fressen is the Höflichkeitsform of essen, but few people see the joke. It doesn’t come up in conversation very often, actually.

  9. Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Definitely seeking aid. Then again “Flipper” was my favorite TV show growing up… so I might be biased.

  10. Aelfric
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    My Greek is a bit rusty, and I don’t mean to pick on a typo, but I believe “anthomorphizing” would mean “putting in to flower form.” Which sounds like a lovely thing to do.

  11. Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    I’d say it was looking for aid. It didn’t have to arrive or to remain and when it was getting help, it stayed put. I had a cat that someone wrapped elastic around its paw. It hid and I just happened to find it (and catch it) to help it. To me, that’s a lot of difference in sentience, no matter how much I adore cats.

  12. Marcoli
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to point out that this may be not too far from behaviors by fishes to solicit services from cleaner fishes. Of course we are dealing with a mammal here, but maybe a mammal would solicit help from cleaner fishes to help clean an injury. If so, then this dolphin behavior may be similar to that. Also since the divers frequently are there (to see manta rays) then the local dolphins would be used to people.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Makes sense to me!

  13. eric
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Its a social animal. They coordinate other types of actions all the time. It seems perfectly reasonable that it could communicate for help and then cooperate while its being given.

    What is appearing to me more and more unreasonable all the time is the human belief that social actions like these, intentionality, etc., require human-like sentience.

    • phil
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, or that human-like sentience is that great, or good, at times (witness recent events in Africa).

  14. Posted January 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting..great video..obviously wanted help.

  15. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Of related interest perhaps

    Quote from video:-

    A pod of sperm whales has taken in a deformed bottlenose dolphin. This unique relationship raises many questions. What motivations might the sperm whales have for adding such and unusual member to the pod?

    V short video

  16. Marella
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Looks like seeking help to me, that it would just coincidentally exhibit all these behaviours at the same time as it had a damaged fin requiring the assistance of a being with opposable thumbs is highly improbable.

  17. Pat
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Having recently retired from 25 years in the veterinary field and as a lifelong animal owner/caretaker, there is no question in my mind that other creatures share our ability to communicate and ask for help. Just watch the body language. How can be be so arrogant as to assume we are the ONLY ones with the intelligence to communicate with other species.
    We are all connected and it is up to us to keep open to that ellusive web that will fleetingly appear from time to time.

  18. sthelensoregon
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Seeing the behavior of some humans on this planet, I would question their sentience before this dolphin’s.

  19. Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I think we need a word that is a mirror of “anthropomorphism.” Anthropomorphism means that we are attributing human characteristics to animals and it implies that we are wrong to do so. That somehow animals are so much different from us that they are incapable of of doing what we
    do. Well, we ARE animals and we exhibit things like altruism not because humans are special, but because we are related to our social animal cousins who also exhibit altruism. We shouldn’t be surprised when animals behave in a human way, or rather, we shouldn’t be surprised when we behave in the same way that many social animals also behave. That’s how we got to be social

    Yea, we need a word for that. Something that better erases that line

    • Michael Fuhr
      Posted January 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      “There isn’t a sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. It’s a very wuzzy line; it’s getting wuzzier all the time as we find animals doing things that we in our arrogance used to think was just human.” -Jane Goodall

      • phil
        Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

        Bingo. Just human.

        I think the dolphin just spends the first few minutes announcing her/his arrival without scaring off the humans. He/she stays in the light and makes no sudden moves.

        Is it just me, or does the dolphin look to be in pretty poor shape. She/he looks sleek but that seems too sleek to me. Also, he/she surfaced for air 2 or 3? times over the whole video. A dolphin? Only 3 or 4 minutes underwater?

        Not that I’d know.

  20. marksolock
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  21. C
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    anthropomorphizing is used to often and strict. Yes it happens and a liberal education promotes it. I think the more evolution, common ancestry, biology and neuroscience is showing it might not be completely correct. Most of the “higher” animals have our emotions at a more primitive level. The strict anthropomorizing crowd reminds me of the creationist type that believe all creatures included man were created separately.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      I think you might be using a slightly different definition from the most common one?

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