Denmark’s adorable harbor porpoises are the reason why people say good things come in small packages. And typically, these wide-eyed, curious creatures are seen on their own. But new drone footage shows that not only do porpoises like to hunt together, but that each animal in the group takes on a unique, very specific role while hunting.
A research team from the University of Southern Denmark has recorded almost 44 hours of drone footage off Funen, the country’s third-largest island. This footage contains 159 hunting sequences. And in 95 of these hunting missions, researchers were surprised to learn, two to six adult porpoises participated.
Fine, so they are hunting together. That doesn’t mean they will cooperate with each other. It’s just going to be an unstructured hunt.
Or so the researchers thought. But boy, did these conventionally shy marine mammals surprise them!
Porpoise group hunting offers a lesson in collaboration
As you would also observe in the video below, each porpoise takes on a different role during the hunt.
1. The distant gatherer (far bordering): swims around the school of fish at a distance of at least three body lengths.
2. The close gatherer (close bordering): swims around the school of fish at a distance closer than three body lengths and with its body and head parallel to the school of fish.
3. The shepherd (herding fish): swims close to the school of fish and influences its direction.
4. The splitter (cross school): swims through the school.
5. The spear (hunting attempt): swims directly into the school at high speed.
Let’s watch the video now:
As Sara Torres Ortiz, who researches animal cognition, explains:
There are several different types of group hunting in the animal kingdom. The form observed can be called a form of collaborative hunting, and it is more sophisticated than the form called cooperative hunting.
And interestingly, a collaborative hunt is not observed very often because it is inherently difficult to follow animals, much less marine animals, while they hunt. Drones, however, have opened up new possibilities for wildlife researchers. Ortiz sums it up, saying:
Drones have truly changed the possibilities of studying marine animals, and it will be exciting to see if they can surprise us again.
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