Tag Archives: calf

The bottlenose mother, pictured with her adoptive whale calf (which has a short and blunt beak compared to the dolphin's long and slender beak) and biological daughter (bottom). Credit: Pamela Carzon.

Dolphin mother adopts a whale calf — first time this is seen in the wild

The bottlenose mother, pictured with her adoptive whale calf (which has a short and blunt beak compared to the dolphin's long and slender beak) and biological daughter (bottom). Credit: Pamela Carzon.

The bottlenose mother, pictured with her adoptive whale calf (which has a short and blunt beak compared to the dolphin’s long and slender beak) and biological daughter (bottom). Credit: Pamela Carzon.

Bottlenose dolphin mothers are some of the most caring and nurturing moms in the animal kingdom. For years, they will feed, protect, and play with their young. But what even knowing this couldn’t prepare researchers for this unusual behavior: a bottlenose dolphin was spotted caring for an orphan male calf which belongs to a different species and genus of dolphin.

Researchers observed the dolphin mother along the coast of French Polynesia, along with one of her biological calves and an adopted male calf, which was later identified as a melon-headed whale.

Adoption was once thought to be a uniquely human trait. Then, in 2006, primatologists at the University of São Paulo were astonished to find a group of capuchins that were caring for a baby marmoset. Along with the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) mother, these are the only two documented cases involving the adoption of an orphan from a different species and genus. Most other adoptions among wild animals — which are very uncommon, to begin with — occur between related members of the same species.

Researchers at the Groupe d’Étude des Mammifères Marins (GEMM) de Polynésie filmed the dual-species family from all angles as part of a broader project designed to study a pod of around 30 bottlenose dolphins, which first began in 2009. After the orphan melon-headed calf (Peponocephala electra) joined the mother and her biological calf, he rarely left her side. The researchers were amazed to see the three of them constantly swimming side by side, an unusual sight since dolphin mothers are known to care for only one young at a time.

What’s more, the adopted calf was also successful at integrating himself in the broader pod. Writing in the journal Ethology, the researchers in French Polynesia said that the melon-headed whale youngster is now behaving like a bottlenose dolphin, regularly surfing and leaping into the waves just like any other dolphin young.

The mother proved to be remarkably committed to her newly adopted calf. The researchers documented how the two were spotted constantly together for nearly three years until the melon-headed whale suddenly disappeared in April 2018 — that’s around the time he would wean. The union lasted far longer than that between the mother and her biological calf, which vanished at one-and-a-half years old. On at least two occasions, the mother was spotted nursing her adopted calf, which is a huge sign of investment. For mammals, making milk is a very costly process so sharing it with not only an unrelated individual but one belonging to an entirely different genus, is truly amazing.

But, if this behavior on the part of the dolphin momma is so costly, why did she go through all of it? One possible explanation is that the orphan calf triggered her maternal instincts. In other words, the calf was in the right place at the right time since the mother was already receptive to forming strong bonds with her own offspring. The dolphin mother also has an accommodating personality, being known for uncanny tolerance for scuba divers in the area.

Lastly, to make the story even more impressive, it seems the melon-headed whale calf himself may have played an important role in the union through sheer, brute determination.

“We argue that the primiparous foster mother’s inexperience and personality may have contributed to factors driving such non‐adaptive behavior. We also propose that the adoptee’s persistence in initiating and maintaining an association with the adult female bottlenose dolphin could have played a major role in the adoption’s ultimate success, as well as the persistence of this cross‐genus adoption after the disappearance of the biological offspring,” the authors argued in their study.

Why a baby shark is called a pup — and other unusual baby animal names

Sure, we all know that a baby cat is called a kitten, a baby deer is a fawn, and some might even know that a baby goat is called a kid. But did you know a shark baby is called a pup?

Some names are truly weird and cute. We think they’ll make you go ‘aww’ — here are our favorites!

Bird baby names

A baby puffin is called a puffling. Image credits: Richard Bartz.

Most young birds are typically called chicks, nestlings, or fledglings, but some have an additional, specific name.

Young eagles are eaglets, owls are owlets, but by far, my favorite are puffins. As if puffins weren’t cute enough, baby puffins are called pufflings.

Swans, geese, and ducks, also have a specific word — being called cygnets, goslings, and ducklings, respectively. A baby pigeon is called a squab, while a baby hen is called a pullet, from the French poulet and probably, the Latin pullus.

Baby hawks and falcons are called eyasses, a term which originates from 15th-century falconry.

Baby mammal names

Image credits: tintedglass / Flickr.

The baby llama (or alpaca) is one of the lesser known animal names — they’re called a crya or cria, from the Spanish word cría, meaning “baby”. When Spanish explorers reached South America, they quickly adopted the term, especially as llamas make sounds resembling those of babies.

Another weird one is the baby elephant seal, which is called… a weaner. Most people will know to differentiate rabbits from hares, but few will know that a young hare is called a leveret. The rabbit younglings are, of course, called bunnies.

Although they’re often called pups, the young of coyotes are also referred to as whelps, as are the young of otters, wolves, and even tigers.

The weirdest animal on Earth, the platypus, was bound to stir up controversies. Some claim that the name of a baby platypus is a puggle, which is colloquially also the name for a crossbreed dog with a Beagle and a Pug parent, and the name for a baby echidna. Another name that’s recently rising in popularity is platypup. However, neither of those are technically correct. A baby platypus will be simply called a baby platypus.

A baby ferret is called a kit and a baby opossum, like a kangaroo, is called a joey. Young foxes are also called kits.

Interestingly, monkeys, our closest living relatives, share the name for their young with humans. A baby monkey will be called an infant. A baby ape will be called… a baby.

Another favorite of mine is the young porcupine, which is called a porcupette.

Porcupettes are as cute as they sound. Image credits: California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Young medusas (it’s kind of weird to call them ‘babies’ right?) are called ephyra during their larval stage. Ephyra was the capital of ancient Greek region of Thesprotia. Young fish are called fry; while that doesn’t sound like a bright future for them, the name actually comes from an Old Norse word, “frío, freó, fraé” meaning “seed” or “offspring.” You may have heard of a “small fry”, and “Young fry of treachery,” is an insult hurled at a character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Little eels are called elvers. A special mention goes to the codfish, whose young are called codlets (not to be confused with a group of cod-like fishes)

For the ‘babies’ of insects such as bees or butterflies we use the name larvae, though for the latter, you might be more familiar with caterpillar. For insects without a pupal stage, like praying mantises, the young are called nymphs, a rather beautiful name also used for female mythical spirits associated with nature. Young ants are sometimes called antlets. A young oyster is called a spat.

A special mention goes to cub, pup, and calf, which seem to be very common names for the younglings of a variety of species.

So, which ones are your favorites? It’s hard to pick just one, but if I could pick two, I’d go for puffling and porcupette.

Baby dolphin killed as hundreds of selfish tourists take pictures with it

Man really is the cruelest animal.

Image credits: EQUINAC.

Please stop taking photos with wild animals!

A baby dolphin died while hundreds of tourists swarmed it around a coast in Almeria, Spain. The terrified and visibly weakened calf was young enough to still need breastfeeding. It somehow got lost from its mother and wandered to shallow waters, where it was surrounded by tourists who wanted to stroke it and take pictures with it. No one seemed to try and help the calf, and several photos show people accidentally covering the dolphin’s blowhole as they “pet” it.

Finally, someone called 112 (the emergency number) and rescuers rushed to help it, but it was too late. The dolphin had died, as some tourists still took photos with it.

“Once again we find that the human beings are the most irrational species that exists,” wrote conversation group Equinac in an impassioned statement in Spanish. “Many are unable to feel empathy for a living being alone, scared, starving, without his mother and terrified because many of you, in your selfishness, only want to photograph and touch it, even if the animal suffers from stress.”

“Cetaceans are animals very susceptible to stress and… crowding them to take pictures and touch them causes them a very strong shock that greatly accelerates a cardiorespiratory failure, which is what finally happened,” said the marine rescue organisation.

The baby’s corpse has been recovered and an autopsy will be conducted.

There is a law against such behaviors, but there seems to be little interest in actually enforcing that law. That coast of Almeria hosts four species of dolphins, along with six species of whales. Equinac pleaded with people to show some consideration in the future.

It’s not the first time something like this happens. Every year there are similar reports from different parts of the world — people seeking photos for social media hurting wild animals, particularly baby dolphins. Time and time again, the story seems to repeat. Just in January, the same thing happened in Argentina.

“They let him die,” one observer then noted in a local TV news channel. “He was young and came to the shore. They could have returned him to the water.”

Chasing wild animals for Instagram or Facebook photos is not OK. “Social media has changed the landscape, making exotic animals seem adorable and acceptable, but what you don’t see is the suffering that lies behind the images,” National Geographic wrote last year. The bottom line is, don’t do it. Don’t try to cuddle dolphins for a photo. Help it find its way to deeper waters, or even better yet, call rescuers and ask for help.

The dolphin in Almeria could have had a good shot at finding its mother and living, had it not been for the people.