Dolphin mother carries dead calf on her back in ‘grieving’ behavior


Such behavior is rare but has been documented before outside of Europe (Picture: SWNS)

This is the heartbreaking moment a dolphin carries her dead calf on her back off the coast of Portugal.

The environmental content creator who captured the footage cried after seeing it and believes it is the first time such a moment has been witnessed on camera in Europe.

Dolphins are highly intelligent, emotional creatures and it is thought that the mother was displaying grief or attempting to revive it.

Margarita Samsonova, 29, was accompanying a research team in the Mediterranean off Albufeira when she came across the scene, which was accompanied by other unusual behaviour.

People on board suggested it felt like the mother was asking for help when she circled the boat.

Margarita, who lives in Lisbon but studied Zoology at Oxford Brookes University, said the rest of the pod were jumping higher than normal and ‘making very strange vocalizations’.

The mother’s attempts to bring the baby to the surface appear to have continued for nearly two weeks, according to other reported sightings.

It is unclear how the youngster died.

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This is not the first time such behavior has been seen, with similar incidents reported off New Zealand, Australia, China and the USA.

Portuguese marine research association AIMM, which was leading the expedition, said on its website: ‘We witnessed a dolphin behaviour, very rare for this region and got it on camera!’

They had been out on the water for approximately five hours and were on their way back to port when they saw the pod.

Margarita added: ‘It was very mixed emotions.

‘Instantly, I cried, it was really heartbreaking and really painful to watch this.

This is the heartbreaking moment a mother dolphin was seen carrying her deceased calf on her back in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.  See SWNS story SWSMdolphin.  The tragic and rare moment was captured by Margarita Samsonova, 29, an environmental content creator.  Margarita, who lives in Lisbon, believes this is the only time this behavior has been witnessed in Europe, and represented an incredible insight into animals experiencing grief.  Margarita studied Zoology at Oxford Brookes University and captured the moment while accompanying a research team.

This may be the first time this tragic behavior has been witnessed in Europe (Picture: SWNS)
It is unclear how the calf died (Picture: SWNS)
It is thought the mother kept the behavior up for around 10 days (Picture: SWNS)
The rest of the pod was behaving unusually – making strange vocalizations and jumping higher than usual (Picture: SWNS)

‘At the same time it was really exciting, because this was something new, we realized that this was something that had never been documented before.’

She explained that the researchers were drawn to the pod of around 25 dolphins because of their strange conduct.

‘The dolphins were behaving very unusually, they were jumping higher than normal and making very strange vocalizations’, Margarita recalled.

‘Then we noticed a mother with a calf, and the calf was dead, and it was clear that she was trying to bring the baby to the surface.

‘It really seemed like a moment of grief that was expressed both by the mother and other dolphins.’


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Margarita said that the head of the research team speculated that it was a true show of grief on the mother’s behalf.

The dolphin was observed continuing the behavior as long as 10 days after.

In February 2019, a mother dolphin tried to keep her dead baby afloat in Florida by balancing it on her nose.

After a similar incident which left a calf dead in Australia two months later, the Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Service said: ‘The dead calf has since been freed from the crab pot, but remains in the water with the mother dolphin as she grieves.

‘Dolphins are highly intelligent creatures and are known to stay with their young for a period of time following death.’

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