The passage below is excerpted from D. Brown, D. Caldwell, M. Caldwell’s Observations on the Behavior of Wild and Captive False Killer Whales. Notably, it demonstrates how captives try to help one another, yet always refrain from harming humans. It also depicts the conditions endured by captive cetaceans, as they are viewed as scientific subjects and commercial commodities.
On January 6, 1965, it became necessary to drain the Circular Tank for the purpose of giving the occupants their bi-annual erysipelas vaccination. The water level had reached the desired depth of three feet by 7:45 pm. It was then dark, and it was necessary to illuminate the work area with flood lights placed around the top of the tank.
After administering a prophylactic injection to a pilot whale, two of the men helping in the tank [….] effected the capture of the common dolphin. The small dolphin immediately commenced to emit a series of high-pitched whistles. The false killer whale, apparently attracted by these vocalizations, inserted her head between the man holding the hinder end of the Delphinus and the animal’s body. It then gently, but nevertheless very deliberately, proceeded to push its companion out of it’s captor’s arms. [The captors] later stated it was impossible to hold the Delphinus at the time. The false killer whale made no attempt to bite, and in fact failed to direct any aggressive behavior at either of the men involved. Upon effecting the dolphin’s release, both it and the Pseudorca swam together for a short time. Shortly thereafter, the common dolphin was captured once more, and the injection was made quickly before the false killer whale could again intervene.
On March 20, 1965, the female Delphinus refused to accept food. Emesis [vomiting] also occurred on several occasions during this and the following day. It was decided to remove her from the exhibit, and in the evening the Circular Tank was again drained to a depth of approximately three feet.
Upon the common dolphin’s being secured by [trainer], the Pseudorca again approached and intervened. The dolphin was whistling at this time. The whale quickly effected the dolphin’s release by pushing her out of the man’s arms. The next attempt was made by both trainers and they were again obliged to release the animal owing to the intervention of the false killer whale. At this time the false killer whale grasped and gently pressed one of [trainer’s] legs in her mouth. A third attempt made by [trainer] elicited the same behavior, ie, the whale seized his leg and relinquished its hold only upon the dolphin’s release. Immediately after this, the false killer whale carried the Delphinus on its back for several seconds. It was then decided to drain more water out of the tank until a depth of 18 inches at the sides was reached. Again the animal was captured and this time removed. During this last attempt, the false killer whale swam to the shallow edge of the tank and stranded herself in her effort to come to the aid of the common dolphin.
Photo: Steven Straiton / Flickr.