Rare, first-time video shows dolphins forming raft to save pod member

For the first time spotted in nature, a group of dolphins formed a raft to help save a struggling member of their pod, adding to the creature’s reputation for being lovable and friendly. New Scientist published the finding and video Friday, and on Monday it was lighting up the Internet. Watch as about 12 dolphins swim tightly together to lift up their distressed friend so it could breathe:

The female dolphin was clearly hurting, wriggling, and tipping from side to side, and sometimes turning upside-down, and its pectoral flippers appeared paralyzed, according to New Scientist.

Members of the Cetacean Research Institute in Ulsan, South Korea, were surveying cetaceans in the Sea of Japan in June 2008 when they encountered the rare sighting. It is unclear why it took so long for the video and finding to be released.

Sadly, it does not end well for the struggling dolphin. More from New Scientist:

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.

After another few minutes some of the helper dolphins left. The injured dolphin soon dropped into a vertical position. The remaining helpers appeared to try and prop it up, possibly to keep its head above the surface, but it soon stopped breathing, say the researchers. Five dolphins stayed with it and continued touching its body, until it sank out of sight.

“It does look like quite a sophisticated way of keeping the companion up in the water,” says Karen McComb at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K. Such helping behaviors are only seen in intelligent, long-lived social animals. In most species, injured animals are quickly left behind.

New Scientist said there have been reports of single dolphins helping others, usually mothers helping calves, but zero cases of groups of dolphins working together to help another … until now.

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