TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A heartbreaking video taken in St. Petersburg this week appears to show a female dolphin carrying her dead calf on her head, unwilling to let it go.
Michael Dee spotted the mother pushing her calf through the waters near the Boca Ciega Point community on Sunday evening, and captured the sad spectacle on video.
“Everyday dolphins play off of our dock. As I sat on my dock last evening it took me a while to understand what was happening,” Dee recalled. “The dolphins in our area jump, play, breed, catch fish and generally bring joy to watch. Tonight, however, was the saddest moment and serves to remind one that our young are vulnerable and there is nothing stronger than a mothers love.”
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium said it was monitoring reports of the dolphin and carcass with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, but had no plans to get into the water to recover the animal.
“Cases of dolphins pushing a dead calf are well documented and this behavior seems part of a natural process, so the Southeast Stranding Network doesn’t intervene,” CMA spokeswoman Kelsy Long said. “We assume it’s the mom in most cases, but it could be other adults. We often can’t confirm.”
Long said Network partners would work to recover the carcass if the adult leaves it, or if the calf washes ashore. If that happens, the calf’s body will be sent to the Marine Mammal Pathology Lab at Eckerd College for a necropsy to confirm its cause of death.
Although calf carrying typically lasts a few hours after a calf’s death, some dolphins have been observed carrying their calves around for days as they decompose.
Some studies suggest dolphins grieve for their dead similarly to humans.
In 2018, biologists and marine conservation experts with the Dolphin Biology and Conservation, a non-profit that researches and advocates for dolphins, collected 78 scientific reports of grief-like displays in 20 of the 88 cetacean species currently known. Of the 88 species, only 20 showed signs of grieving behaviors. Dolphins accounted for 92.3 percent of the grieving behaviors, most of which were found in females mourning their calves, the study found.