Dolphins, like many other mammals, are known to exhibit ‘allomaternal’ behaviour, where a female interacts with a calf that is not her own.
We often see calves in baby position (close to the side and slightly to the back) with juvenile or adult non-parent females.
This kind of behaviour can sometimes make it difficult to determine who the mother of a particular calf is.
Although allomaternal behaviour is well documented and commonly observed in dolphins, there are only a few reported cases where a female dolphin has adopted a calf that has been orphaned.
In July a young dolphin named Goose’s mother, Caboose, was found dead in the Blue Water Lagoon off Dawesville Cut.
As soon as we found out the deceased dolphin was Caboose, we had great concern for the health and survival of Goose.
We have observed her multiple times since she was orphaned.
Most of the time we have seen Goose with a dolphin mother Laika and her calf Sputnik.
When Caboose was still alive we observed them all in the same group on several occasions in Dawesville Cut.
We do not know whether Laika has actually adopted Goose but it’s possible that since she is a lactating female, she maybe also be feeding Goose.
Dolphins are known to feed unrelated calves and are even observed lactating when they do not have a calf.
We have observed Goose in baby position with Laika and she often socialises with Sputnik.
Just this week we observed the trio together in the Dawesville Cut.
It is very exciting to see Goose forming social bonds with other resident Mandurah dolphins and thriving despite losing her mother at such an early age.
I can’t help but to wonder whether dolphins are able to feel empathy at some level.
We continue to monitor Goose and will keep you posted on how she goes.
The Mandurah Dolphin Research Project is measuring how many dolphins use the Peel-Harvey waterways and how they are connected to dolphins in nearby coastal waters.