A mother struggles to keep her calf afloat. It is a copy of bottlenose dolphin (rice) who resigns himself to losing his puppy, only a few days old. He has been trying to save it for several days, even though it is dead, but it is a sign of mourning and a behavior that has already been documented before in this species, so it can continue like this for a while longer.
This is the scene witnessed this Sunday by dozens of neighbors and tourists aboard pleasure boats in the surroundings of Combarro (Pontevedra), to where they traveled, alerted by those witnesses, members of the Coordinator for the Study of Marine Mammals (Cemma), in charge of the Galician Stranding Network, reports El Faro de Vigo, from the Prensa Ibérica group.
The mother prevented him from being taken away
Alfredo López, its head, confirms the location of the dead young specimen next to his mother, “very close to the coast of Campelo.” After moving to the place “we tried to pick up the puppy to take it to land and perform the necropsy; in fact, we got to hold it in our hands, but we couldn’t get it out of the water because the mother got angry, took it away from us and kept pushing it towards the middle of the estuary “.
The inability to pick up the body prevents specifying the causes of death. But after closely observing the little rice, Alfredo López does not consider that it is related to an “infanticide”; a well-known and documented practice, also in the Rías Baixas, in which adult males who want to mate are carried out, and by killing the young they try to get their mothers to go into heat earlier, otherwise they must wait at least three years.
A species with a high infant mortality rate
“He may have died from any cause, since the infant mortality rate among bottlenose dolphins is very high“, wields Alfredo López. In any case, without having all the necessary information, in the absence of the autopsy,” we did not see any type of mark on the puppy that points to infanticide, “insists the head of Cemma.
It does so while confirming that it is “a baby only a few weeks old, maybe only a few days”, this being a time when they are “very vulnerable and can die from natural causes.” Or even due to an impact with the boats, although Alfredo López reiterates that, “apparently, he had no damage from blows.”
They thought it was a log
Luis Vaamonde and Paula González are two of the witnesses to the scene who sounded the alarm after witnessing them when they went sailing from the Combarro marina. “We saw something that was floating in the water and we thought it was a log with some twigs that was adrift,” he says. It was when they got closer that they discovered that “it was a dead baby dolphin face up; what looked like branches were, in fact, its small fins”.
At that moment “we verified that there was an adult dolphin, we assumed that its mother, who emerged again and again using her snout to try to move the calf and keep it on the surface, always moving it in the same direction as the current.”
Astonished, these residents of Chancelas, in the parish of Combarro (Poio), observed and photographed the moment without disturbing the female, “taking advantage of the fact that when sailing we did not make noise”.
Both them and the passengers of the passenger ship ‘Pelegrín’, based in O Grove and that it was also in the area, “it seemed to us that the calf was somewhat deformed, and it was as if viscera were coming out of its mouth, so we think it could be a case of ‘infanticide’ caused by eager adult males to mate. “
Luis Vaamonde and Paula González, who indicate that “the captain of the passenger ship Pelegrín said that he had already seen that calf a few days before swimming with difficulties near the island of Tambo,” alerted the Institute for the Study of Bottlenose Dolphins of what happened. (BDRI), based in O Grove.
Its director, the doctor in Ecology and biologist Bruno Díaz López, says he has received numerous notices in the same direction. In his opinion, “it could be a case of ‘infanticide’ among dolphins, but this is something that must be said with all caution and is only a hypothesis, since only the necropsy can reveal whether the death of the puppy was traumatic or natural”.
Do not disturb the mother
Thus, without delving into the causes of death, what Bruno Díaz does is ask the population “not to bother the mother, especially because she has just lost her puppy and is going through a very delicate situation, so that it can even become aggressive. “
The researcher emphasizes that “she is still a mother who has just lost her son, in this case a male cub, and is crying for him while trying to revive him; and this will continue until he gives up, this being a behavior that is repeats frequently and makes some mothers stay with their dead calves for a week “
It ends by asking citizens to immediately report situations such as the one described to the Galician Stranding Network or the 112 emergency service.
Cases of animal “infanticide” in the Rías Baixas
Other cases of “infanticide” among dolphins have already been recorded in recent years in the Rías Baixas. The most striking took place in September 2016, when two adult male dolphins beat them to death with one of the calves born that summer in the Arousa estuary. That mother also tried unsuccessfully to keep her dying calf alive, taking care of it with a behavior typical of humans that has been seen in other animals, such as gorillas and elephants.
Bruno Díaz López himself reported then that together with his team he had observed a group of rice dishes, including a dead calf, its mother and two adult males. “We watched the mother for hours as she tried to keep her calf afloat and gave the impression that she refused to accept death and had feelings; a behavior seen before in animal species such as elephants, but certainly very human”, stated the doctor in Ethology.
To which he added that “perhaps only five cases of infanticide among dolphins were documented before worldwide”, before explaining that the necropsy showed that the dolphin had died of a beating, hence the “numerous internal hematomas and multiple vertebral ruptures” who presented, “with serious damage to the liver, broken ribs and dislocation of lumbar vertebrae and occipital level”.