The friendly, protective image of dolphins has taken a beating with marine experts in Skye, Scotland, blaming dolphins for the deadly attack on a stranded young pilot whale.
Vets had to euthanize the badly injured three-year-old female calf, which was discovered on a beach at Dunvegan with teeth marks and tearing on its body, dorsal fin and flippers. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme suspect the whale calf was attacked by bottlenose dolphins, but are still awaiting results from a post-mortem examination.
Dr. Conor Ryan, HWDT's sightings and strandings officer, says, "If indeed bottlenose dolphins were to blame, this is only the second such case that we are aware of in the UK. Pilot whales often strand dead and occasionally alive on our coasts, but rarely with these types of injuries."
Scotland is home to the world's most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins, which feed and breed between the Moray Firth and North Sea, along the Scottish east coast.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation field officer Charlie Phillips says that although most people would like to believe the whale calf's injuries were caused while the dolphins and the calf were playing, the chances are it was "an act of aggression".
He says, "Dolphins are wonderful creatures but people should remember that they are not these fluffy cartoon characters, they have a dark side too. Dolphins and whales do interact in the marine environment and this is part and parcel of their natural behaviour."
Phillips says an initial marine forensics examination of the calf's body reveal that the gaps between the tears and the size of the the tooth marks show the attackers were more than likely bottlenose dolphins. He says larger spaces would have pointed to an orca and smaller ones the common dolphin, The examination has also ruled out the possibility that the attack was carried out while the calf had been slowed down by illness or an injury of some other sort.