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Dolphins Using Drugs For Fun


Here’s a switch on my previous deadly serious posts: a video of a group of “teenage” dolphins “tormenting” a pufferfish to induce it to release its deadly toxin.  Pufferfish are slow, clumsy fish that have a potent defense: when threatened, the fish “puffs” up or swells itself to several times its normal size, and releases a deadly neurotoxin known as tetrodotoxin into the water.  Eating the fish can kill you: it is known as the “second most deadly vertebrate” (presumably after the cobra snake.)

The video, apparently taken with a hidden camera, shows a half dozen young dolphins searching out and capturing a puffer fish.  They then take turns swimming around with the fish’s tail clasped in their jaws.  The fish swells up and releases a small visible cloud of material, which then dolphins then gather around to ingest.  After taking in the material, the dolphins appear to become much less active, and gather together near the surface with their snouts poking up.  The puffer fish swims away.

The producers of the video claim that this shows the dolphins are deliberately ingesting sublethal doses of the puffer fish venom and beoming intoxicated as a result.  There is no other obvious explanation for this behavior.   The puffer fish, although slow and apparently defenseless, is lethal to eat and is avoided by all carnivorous fish, as well as by the dolphin, which normally eats smaller fish as a staple of its diet.

The Japanese traditionally eat portions of the puffer fish, which are prepared with extreme care by licensed chefs.  Supposedly, a sublethal dose of the toxin causes tingling and numbness, although the effects are not described as enjoyable.   Lethal doses will cause paralysis and death within a few minutes by suffocation; occasional deaths have been described for those who eat inexpertly prepared dishes containing the poisonous glands of the fish.

Here is the address of the video, which is an advertisement for a Discovery channel show on dolphin behavior as captured by hidden cameras:   I find the explanation quite believable and very entertaining.  It is another example of the clearly highly intelligent behavior of this large brained sea mammal.  Fortunately for us, dolphins do not have hands or fingers and thus are unable to write or manipulate nuclear material.  Thus, they are no threat to us and I believe can be studied with a view to better understanding of the ways of intelligent beings who are fully adapted to, and comfortable in, their natural environment.  I think it is unlikely that they can teach us pacifism; they can kill others of their own species under unusual circumstances and it is romantically idealistic to think that, just because they don’t wage war, they are Ghandi-esque.

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