For most human parents, adoption is often viewed as a last resort when all other means of conception fails. For some, they see it as their best and only choice. But for other nonhuman animals, instances of adoption is very uncommon and, if you will, very strange – however, it is not entirely unheard of.

From time to time, we’ve seen different kinds of land mammals take on the role of mom for other orphan mammals despite not belonging to the same species. These situations don’t come often, but when they do, we always consider it a touching moment.

An unexpected adoption

A 2019 article by Erica Tennenhouse for National Geographic detailed a story about a group of researchers spotting a bottlenose dolphin in 2014. The dolphin was with a male melon-headed whale calf.

Although not unheard of, adoptions are quite rare among wild mammals. The melon-headed baby joined the pod and was seen socially interacting with the dolphins. He was also nursed by Momma Bottlenose and even had an adoptive sister, a biological calf.

What’s the deal?

Bottlenose dolphins have a reputation for “stealing” other calves for brief periods during conflicts. So, does this mean that the baby whale was taken away from his family?

Fortunately, that was not the case. Based on the observations made by a team of scientists led by Pamela Carzon, there seemed to be nothing forced with the interactions, as the calf was integrating himself voluntarily into the pod. Since the bottlenose dolphin had just given birth to her own calves, her maternal instincts might have kicked in to make sure that the orphaned calf was taken care of.

Like mother, like son

There are a lot of similarities between the two species, making the adaptation easier for the calf, the mother, and the pod.

Here are a few of them as identified by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC).

They are social creatures

Melon-headed whales run in tight-knit herds of hundreds and the bottlenose swims in pods where everyone helps with babysitting and feeding.

Both are threatened by humans

They are highly threatened by hunting, pollution, and fishing nets and gears.

They have similar diets

They have a similar diet consisting of squids, shrimps, crustaceans, smaller fishes for the melon-headed whale, and salmon for the bottlenose dolphin.

They mingle with other species

Both of them extend their socialization outside of their own species, sometimes even to humans.

They are cetaceans

They are both aquatic mammals.

Cetacean confusion

Now that we already know that momma dolphin and baby whale are in the same biological order, what does that actually suggest? Is the calf a whale or a dolphin? In case you haven’t figured it out yet: He is indeed a dolphin.

There are a few species of dolphins that are called “whales” due to their size and characteristics. Here’s a short list from a 2013 article by Dolphins-World.

They are a tad larger than other dolphins, but dolphins they still are.

The dark world of entertainment

One of the main threats to bottlenose dolphins, as mentioned by WD, is captivity. They are forcibly taken from their homes and families and imprisoned for life for the sake of entertainment. Most of the sea parks where they are held in captivity don’t meet their basic biological needs.

Clearly, taking wild animals from their natural habitat is a violation of freedom. They are taken from their homes and exploited for profit, which is why many animal rights groups are calling to boycott these so-called parks where dolphins, orcas, and other sea animals are forces to perform. For the sake of our brief enjoyment, a poor lonely creature is subjected to suffer the rest of his life in a tank, which is not even an eighth of the world they used to live in.

Adopt. Love. Care. Live.

While most families still prefer to have a biological child, adoptions are becoming more and more of a popular option, with no regards to species! If you feel ready, you should consider adopting, too!

Support freedom and give love. You can start by giving a stray or shelter dog or cat a loving home. Remember: Adopt, don’t shop!

Maybe you can also think twice before visiting aquariums and instead support causes that will free all marine life. These are small steps, but if taken by many, they can create a significant change that will alter our lives for the better.

Don’t fight your instinct to care for any being no matter how big or small. That love is in all of us. It’s in humans, birds, and all other nonhuman animals, including marine life. This story is but one example of how our lives, no matter how seemingly different, are still interconnected when it comes to caring for one another. We are here on this planet not only to live, but to help one another survive, even at the expense of being called odd.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s July-August 2020 issue.

You might want to read:
– Robot dolphins created to replace real animals in captivity
– Whale and dolphin watching in Bais: Animal Scene sails to cetacean central in search of dolphins
– Cats, dolphins and one smart raven: The CIA’s secret animal spies