A Dolphin Pod Teams Up With Brazilian Fishermen

Brilliance | Dec. 12, 2017

Imagine that every time you went fishing, a pod of dolphins appeared to guide you towards a school of fish, ready for your net. Well, this is actually a thing. Starting in the 19th century (or maybe even the 18th) wild dolphins in Laguna, Brazil have formed a symbiotic bond with the local fishermen.

These Dolphins Know What's Up

These Brazilian fishermen don't just enjoy the dolphins' company, they rely on it. In fact, as one fisherman explained in a 2013 Slate article, "when the dolphins aren't around, it's not worth fishing." Here's how it happens: first, the fishermen stand motionless in the water and wait for signs of the dolphin pod. Then, as the dorsal fins approach, the men prepare their nets and wait for the next signal. The dolphins lift their dorsal fins to change course, and slap the water with their tails, charging for shore. The fishermen follow the pod's lead and cast their nets to retrieve treasures of fish, namely local mullet, stuck in the mesh.

What's in it for the dolphins? No one knows for sure, but many theorize that they gain access to quicker, hard-to-catch fish. We do know that the pod has made a deliberate choice to work with the fishermen—according to Slate, only 21 of the 55 resident dolphins are cooperative. The fishermen refer to them as the "good" dolphins, and they've even given them names like "Escubi" (Scooby Doo) and "Filipe" (Flipper). But of course, the dolphins have their own names for each other in the form of signature whistles.

Sharing Is Caring

Since this dolphin-fisherman relationship has been so beneficial in Laguna, you'd think the same practice could be replicated in other areas, right? Sadly, this isn't the case. In other parts of the world, dolphins are seen as competition, so they're often shot or stabbed, and cooperative fishing cannot exist where both parts of the partnership aren't cooperating.

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