Is it ethical to kidnap one dolphin to save a whole pod?
Knowing the outcome may help answer the question: the first-of-its-kind rescue, conducted in early February, succeeded, and the juvenile was released back into the pod afterwards.
Nearly 150 dolphins were milling about in shallow water, in grave danger of stranding on the shore and dying — one pod member already had. Rescuers came up with a novel idea: take a young dolphin from the pod into deeper water, hoping that the pod would follow her distress cries out of the dangerous shallows.
Rescuers counted on the group’s tight bonds and altruism when they captured the juvenile, betting that the whole community would come to her rescue. Fortunately for this pod, dolphins are as big-hearted as they come. They didn’t leave the calf’s mother to handle the situation alone, instead going en masse to save the little one.
In this video, Australian Department of Environment and Conservation officer Janet Newell holds the juvenile dolphin before the operation. After the rescue, the juvenile “was last seen swimming with the pod” from “a spotter plane.”
Dr. Naomi A. Rose, senior scientist at Humane Society International, told Take Part that the rescuers took the risk of injuring the juvenile or distressing her to the point of catatonia when they captured her, “but the entire group might have stranded, so it was a risk, but I think worth taking. The ethics are somewhat situational here—the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Photo credit: White Wolf Pack
Experts aren’t sure what is behind dolphin mass strandings. Rose says one theory is that the dolphins “get disoriented in shallow water or in geographically tricky areas. It is believed that in other [cases], when one or more members are already in distress, their group cohesion and altruistic tendencies are so strong that they simply follow the distressed member or members onto the beach.”
Future rescuers now know that, fortunately, dolphins will also follow pod members out to sea and safety.