Dolphins Getting High Off of Something Unexpected

Dolphins Getting High Off of Something Unexpected

By: Tia Hildebrandt


            Dolphins are one of the smartest mammals in the world, and as of late, they seem to be using their brains to do something completely unexpected.  Zoologist Rob Pilley believes that dolphins are using puffer fish to get a similar high that humans experience under the influence of certain drugs.  Wild dolphins have been observed passing around puffer fish which is unusual for this marine mammal since dolphins normally tear apart their meals right away.  However, they seem to gently handle the puffer fish in an effort to keep it alive instead of instantly killing the fish as food.  When a puffer fish tries to protect itself it releases a nerve toxin which seems to affect dolphins.  Rob Pilley notes that "after chewing the puffer and gently passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection." The BBC documentary, “Dolphins: Spy in the Pod”, has called particular attention to this unusually behavior. 


            Of course there is some criticism of this phenomenon.  Non-believers believe that there are other creatures that would give dolphins a better buzz.  Christie Wilcox, graduate of the University of Hawaii, notes that “sea bream are known to produce vivid visual and auditory hallucinations, much like tripping on acid.  And of course, people have used them recreationally.” Adding to her criticisms, Christie Wilcox states that the toxin that the puffer fish emit does not affect the brain and instead affects nerves.  She argues that puffer fish would not give dolphins a “high” since the toxin never enters the brain.   

            Whether or not dolphins are actually using puffer fish as a drug is still up for debate.  However, this unique behavior has been observed in dolphins and recorded by the BBC documentary “Dolphins: Spy in the Pod”.   The intent of this behavior will be a mystery for now, but it will certainly be continued to be studied in the future.



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