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How do dolphins play?

Many animals are playful when they are young. Like humans, many dolphins seem to retain a playful curiosity and sense of fun even after they are grown up.


Playing Octopus football: Off Mikura Island in Japan, scientist Kathleen Dudzinski saw a dolphin pulling an octopus from a rock crevice. The dolphin and three of his friends then used the unfortunate octopus as a ball, passing it from one to another. The octopus got round the problem by suckering himself to the face of one of the dolphins, bringing the game to an end.


Seaweed tag: Some dolphins enjoy a game of tag - playing chase with a length of seaweed on their head or their flipper.  The game may have no practical purpose, but just be a fun thing for the dolphins to do (see video).


Mimics: Some dolphins mimic the ungainly way that humans swim, occasionally in an unflattering way.


Trick shots: Kathleen Dudzinksi played ball with a dolphin called Phoenix. Kathleen tossed it to her and she slapped it back to her with her rostrum (face). They tossed it back and forth a few times until Phoenix played a trick shot, pretending to hit the ball one way, then hitting it another. Kathleen believed that Phoenix had a sense of humour and planned to pitch a toss that she knew Kathleen couldn't return.


Bubble rings: Some dolphins blow amazing bubble rings in the water. They may not serve any practical purpose, but while they last, they look beautiful (see video).


Puffer fish highs: Humans like to drink alcohol to have fun. The BBC have filmed a group of dolphins playing with a puffer fish. Puffer fishes release a deadly toxin, but in small concentrations its like a drug for the dolphins (see video).     


While the young of many species play, it is less common for mature animals to do so. Dolphins live in complex social groups and playing together helps dolphins to bond with each other. Their play gives us a hint of their curiosity, complex social groups and intelligence.


Dolphins playing with whales: BioNews Science Bulletins report sightings of dolphins playing with hump-back whales, with the whale lifting the dolphin out of the water, apparently for fun. (see video below)





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