Altruism in Dolphins

bottlenose-dolphinMany studies have demonstrated the intelligence of these playful creatures and there are even instances whereby dolphins have saved human beings from the attack of sharks. Recently, I chanced across an article which talked about how a pod of dolphins saved a surfer from a shark attack. This particular species of dolphins are commonly known as bottlenose dolphins or the scientific name, Tursiops Truncatu.

Click on the link below to watch video on how dolphins helped shark attack victim.

The surfer, Todd Endris was surfing at Marina State Park off Monterey, California, when he was suddenly attacked by a great white shark. The shark peeled the skin off his back and was biting on his right leg. A pod of bottlenose dolphins swam over and formed a protective ring around Endris, providing him a chance to escape from the shark and to swim back to shore where help was available.

This is not an isolated case of dolphins helping humans. There are several instances whereby dolphins demonstrated such altruistic behavior. A famous example of altruistic behavior in dolphins happened in New Zealand, whereby a pod of bottlenose dolphins encircled a group of lifeguards when they were under the threat of a shark attack. According to Connor and Norris (1982), there are several witness accounts of dolphins’ altruistic behaviors and based on that, they further hypothesize that bottlenose dolphins are reciprocal altruists.

Furthermore, altruistic behavior in bottlenose dolphins is not limited towards humans only. Moko, a bottlenose dolphin in New Zealand, helped two whales who were stranded on the beach by directing them to open sea. Based on the stories above, it seems that bottlenose dolphins are not only intelligent, but possess altruistic qualities too.

Secondary Source:

Connor, R.C. & Norris, K. S.,1982. Are dolphins reciprocal altruists? The American Naturalist, 119(3), 358-374.


“Dolphins save surfer from becoming shark’s bait” by Mike Celizic., 08 Nov 2007. URL: (accessed on 03 Apr 2010).

“Dolphin answers whales’ SOS call” by Martyn McLaughlin., 13 Mar 2008. URL:  (accessed on 03 Apr 2010).

“Dolphins saving people: Dolphins and altruism” by Tom Bates. Assorted Scribbles, 18 Feb 2008. URL: Dolphins_and_Altruism (accessed on 04 Apr 2010).

“Dolphins help shark attack victim” by TODAY msnbc, 08 Nov 2007. URL: (accessed on 3 Apr 2010).