The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has observed a wild dolphin “tailwalking” off the coast of Adelaide in Australia. Taught by dolphinarium trainers everywhere, but rarely seen in the wild, tailwalking is a trick where the dolphin launches itself vertically out of the water and then moves along the surface using only their tail. Incredibly, the dolphin (known as Billie) has been teaching the trick to others in her group.
It appears that Billie learnt to tailwalk during a short time in captivity in the early 1980s. Trapped behind a marina and unable to return to the sea, she was captured and taken to the local dolphinarium. On her release to the wild three weeks later, she was branded with a ’3′ to make her easily identifiable.
She was never trained during her stay at the dolphinarium, but must have learnt to tailwalk after observing other dolphins around her. When she left captivity, she retained the skill and is now passing it on the others. Dr Mike Bossley, of WDCS Australia said:
“I have observed all the local dolphins over a number of years, and have watched Billie occasionally performing tailwalks in the years since her release, sometimes in the bow wave of large ships, which is an awesome sight!
“About five years ago another female dolphin called Wave began performing the same behaviour, but does so with much greater regularity than Billie. A third adult female dolphin has also been seen tailwalking.”
The scientists at WDCS do not know why the other dolphins have begun to tailwalk, since they are not rewarded with food as captive dolphins are, but they suspect it may be a form of play or communication. It could also suggest a form of “culture” amongst the dolphins – a behaviour developed by a group and passed between individuals, ultimately defining the group in the same manner as language in humans.