In Laguna, a coastal city in Brazil, local fishermen are almost entirely reliant on the dolphins for catching their fish. This amazing phenomenon has been going on at least for 150 years and also occurs in parts of West Africa but nowhere else in the world.
Photo courtesy of Fábio Daura-Jorge
How do they do it?
The fishermen stand at the beach (in boats or knee-deep water) waiting for the dolphins to herd groups of mullet (a small, silver fish) toward them. But no fisherman throws the nest until he sees a bottlenose dolphin splashing the water with a flick of its head and tail. This is the sign that let the men know when and where should throw their nets.
Although the dolphins also find it easier to capture the fish in this way, seemingly because the fish are disoriented by the fishermen’s nets, causing them to break from their formations, no one knows for sure what’s in it for the dolphin. In many parts of the world dolphins are considered net thieves and people chase them, but in Laguna things are completely different. Most of the helpful dolphins have names and fishermen treat them with respect.
The cooperation is inherited
From the entire population of dolphins that live in the area, just one group of about 20 dolphins work with the fishermen. Since these dolphins were not trained for this behavior and there’s nothing in the environment stopping other dolphins from engaging in it, researchers came to the conclusion that this amazing behavior is passed down from one generation to the next for both human and dolphin.
The unique relationship between the fishermen and dolphins has important economic and social value for the humans involved. Over 200 families with no other income are supported by this small group of dolphins.
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