Open For Interpretation

There are only a few scientifically recognized papers in which marine mammals have been identified as “playing” with an object in nature. Animals have often been noted utilizing “tools” supplied by nature for foraging purposes (otters and rocks, dolphins and sea sponges, etc), but how often do they actually just stop and use these objects for play?As a species of a profound intellectual capacity, dolphins have been continuously observed in their natural environment by scientists utilizing sticks, sea sponges, leaves, rocks, and even twigs as objects of play. Whether rolling these objects over their bodies or through balancing objects on body parts, these inexplicable behaviors have been deemed as none other than “play.” Bowhead whales have been documented on several occasions interacting with floating logs in the Beaufort Sea, attempting to submerge or even roll 30 meter logs across their backs.

Sperm whales have been observed nudging and somewhat obsessively surfacing around planks of floating wood at sea. Humpbacks have been observed by this year’s research team lifting seaweed clear out of the water and even rolling it across and over their own bodies. So what does it mean? Scientists believe that the behavior of “play” is a special time that allows for young animals, all across the animal kingdom, to develop the skills they will need to socialize, hunt, mate, and survive as adults. However, as an adult whale, what’s really in it for you to spend hours rolling at the surface through patches of seaweed? How can we REALLY define the notion of “play” inclusive of all ages, genders, etc. across different species? Take a look at the images and video footage of a Humpback spotted by our team just recently off the coast of Eden, and let us know your own interpretation…

Annie Macie


Kathy Huish (visitor) says:

I know stingrays love to swim up under your hand so that your hand brushes across their back (Mote marine Research ray tank), maybe the seaweed feels good, or removes stuff from their skin.

Sharan (visitor) says:

Of course it's "play!" What else could it be! Great pics and great video. Thanks!