Warning: If the sight of a dolphin in distress really bothers you, it’s probably best to turn away now.
In a recently released video from the Cetacean Research Institute, a pod of dolphins form a life raft of sorts in an attempt to help a distressed member.
A group of South Korean scientists from the institute were out in the Sea of Japan back in June 2008 when they stumbled upon the pod of dolphins. While studying them, they found several members of the group had banded together to help a struggling dolphin – a rare sight in the wild.
According to New Scientist, as the dolphin having trouble kept “wriggling and tipping from side to side” due to some kind of dysfunction in flippers, its fellow members did all they can to help:
The other dolphins crowded around it, often diving beneath it and supporting it from below. After about 30 minutes, the dolphins formed into an impromptu raft: they swam side by side with the injured female on their backs. By keeping the injured female above water, they may have helped it to breathe, avoiding drowning …
Such helping behaviours are only seen in intelligent, long-lived social animals. In most species, injured animals are quickly left behind.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending: the distressed dolphin eventually ceased breathing and sank out of sight, despite the efforts of her helpers. Karen McComb, a researcher at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K., told the New Scientist that the dolphins’ attempts at live-saving could merely be instinct — behavior that evolved in order to better maintain their group, territory and shared genes — and not necessarily a result of empathy. Though we won’t blame you if your heart broke a little bit too.