Bizarre: Ir­rawaddy dol­phin

The dome-headed dol­phin with strange hunt­ing habits

World of Animals - - What's Inside -

They’re pretty shy

While species like the bot­tlenose dol­phin love to play at the sur­face, leap­ing and som­er­sault­ing out of the wa­ter, the Ir­rawaddy dol­phin is much more re­served. It will oc­ca­sion­ally jump and roll through the waves, but it usu­ally avoids tourist boats and spends much more time un­der­wa­ter or with just its head peak­ing out – a be­hav­iour known as spy­hop­ping.

They spit at their food

These dol­phins can squirt 1.5-me­tre (five-foot) jets of wa­ter from their mouths. This un­usual be­hav­iour is thought to help them herd fish, and it might also help them to get rid of wa­ter they in­gest as they hunt and eat.

They act like sheep­dogs

Some Ir­rawaddy dol­phins have es­tab­lished a work­ing re­la­tion­ship with lo­cal fish­er­men in In­dia and Burma. By tap­ping on the side of their boats, fish­er­men at­tract the at­ten­tion of the dol­phins, and the an­i­mals form a semi­cir­cle to herd fish to­wards the wait­ing nets. In re­turn for their as­sis­tance the dol­phins are given the by­catch.

They’re like fam­ily to lo­cals

In Cam­bo­dia and Laos, some peo­ple be­lieve Ir­rawaddy dol­phins are rein­car­na­tions of their an­ces­tors. These be­liefs meant that the dol­phins were re­spected and left un­harmed for many years, but re­cent de­vel­op­ments in fish­ing, like in­creased in­ten­sity and the use of ex­plo­sives, have put the species in dan­ger.

They were once mis­taken for whales

A char­ac­ter­is­tic fea­ture of the dol­phin is its prom­i­nent beak, but the Ir­rawaddy dol­phin has a rounded head like a bel­uga whale or nar­whal. It has pre­vi­ously been clas­si­fied in a fam­ily with these whales, but ge­netic anal­y­sis has re­vealed that it’s an ocean dol­phin closely re­lated to the orca.

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