There are several records of dolphins interacting with blowfish – or ‘blowies – in estuaries and coastal waters around the world.
In Australia scientists have seen juveniles mouthing blowies in the Leschenault estuary; a sub-adult dolphin carried an inflated blowie for a few hours in the Kimberley; and in Tangalooma dolphins are frequently observed mouthing, and what appears to be playing, with the fish.
Blowies have a lethal toxin, tetrodotoxin, present in their skin, flesh and internal organs.
If consumed, this toxin can be deadly to predators including humans.
A BBC documentary, Dolphins - Spy in the Pod, filmed dolphins chew on a blowie and “pass the puffer around”.
They stated that in small doses the toxin has a narcotic effect and considered this as recreational drug use by dolphins.
Many do not agree with this interpretation, and consider the small amounts of tetrodotoxin only make the animal feel numb, not high.
Also, dolphins not only interact with blowies but have also known to play with other creatures, like crabs even in the Peel-Harvey, and objects like seagrass, so it’s possible their treatment of blowies is part of the same behavior.
A calf born in 2016 we often see in the Dawesville Cut, Huubster, seems to have taken a special interest in tossing and chewing blowfish lately.
On January 24, while the other group members traveled slowly toward the ocean, Huubster was swimming belly-up tossing an inflated blowie up in the air.
He repeatedly let it loose, only to capture and toss it again.
On a separate occasion, four days later, we observed Huubster again, tossing a blowie repeatedly in the surf at Wedge.
Regardless whether this behavior is play or serves a purpose of getting high, I find it very interesting to observe, and it certainly made for some fun pictures.
The MDRP is a partnership between Murdoch University, City of Mandurah and Mandurah Cruises that commenced in January 2016.
They are measuring how many dolphins use the Peel-Harvey waterways and how they are connected to dolphins in nearby coastal waters.
You can follow the MDRP on Facebook or through this weekly column.