New Zealand's Far Out Ocean Research Collective spotted a bottlenose dolphin caring for a young pilot whale, and this isn't the first time the species has stepped in as a surrogate mom.

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Bottlenose dolphin seen with a pilot whale calf
Jochen Zaeschmar/Far Out Ocean Research Collective
| Credit: Jochen Zaeschmar/Far Out Ocean Research Collective

On May 17, the Far Out Ocean Research Collective, based in Paihia, New Zealand, shared that they observed a female bottlenose dolphin interacting with a pilot whale calf like the newborn was her own offspring. Researchers believe that the dolphin adopted the young whale over a month ago and has been caring for the little creature.

"An interesting observation of an adult oceanic bottlenose dolphin with a newborn long-finned pilot whale off north-eastern New Zealand. Earlier in the day, the dolphin was part of a mixed-species group of false killer whales, pilot whales, and oceanic bottlenose dolphins," the organization announced on Facebook.

Far Out Ocean also noted that this is not the first time a bottlenose dolphin has been observed caring for the young of another ocean mammal. It is unclear why this species seems comfortable stepping in as a surrogate parent, but researchers have theories.

"It could be a misguided motherly instinct, or she lost her own calf," said Far Out Ocean Jochen Zaeschmar, marine researcher, 1 News reports. "Pilot whales spend seven years with their calves. There is a good chance it will eventually join another pod of pilot whales as they often cross paths."

Far Out Ocean has taken photos documenting the special relationship between the bottlenose dolphin and the young pilot whale they spotted this spring. The organization plans to continue watching the pair's journey and sharing their findings with their social media followers.

"The individual is a well-known member of the north-eastern New Zealand offshore bottlenose dolphin population and regularly associates with pilot whales and false killer whales. We are hoping to re-encounter her to monitor this interesting phenomenon," Far Out Ocean said on social media of the interspecies duo.

This story originally appeared on people.com