In the year 1847, when the United States issued its first ever postage stamps, and the world’s first vegetarian society formed in the United Kingdom, a curious thing happened in the Brazilian town of Laguna.
Bottlenose dolphins began helping local fishermen by herding schools of mullet towards their nets. When the dolphins had the fish in position, they would flick their heads or tails, signalling to the men with a splash.
One hundred and sixty five years later and the tradition continues every autumn, although many are uncertain why. Are the fishermen wearing charming cologne? Ridding them of a tyrant? What’s in it for the dolphins?
Simon Ingram, marine mammal biologist at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, has researched the event for the past two years. He and his team found that only 50 out of about 150 dolphins took part in the annual event.
Co-author of the study and fellow marine biologist, Fabian Daura-Jorge, suggests these dolphins, which appear to have a tighter bond, may be more inclined to learn off one another. Although he can’t rule out that fish herding could be a genetically inherited trait.
So it appears that after two years research, scientists have absolutely no idea why every autumn these bottlenose dolphins become the sheep dogs of the South Atlantic.
Perhaps there’s not much else to do around the shores of Laguna. Or perhaps the dolphins are celebrating humanity’s first step towards a seafood-free diet, by honoring the launch of what is now the world’s oldest vegetarian society.