'Tis the season for giving, but in Australia, wild dolphins have been documented offering gifts to the researchers studying them for quite some time.
We hope those "gifts" came with a receipt, though, as the offerings seem likely to trigger the gag reflex in some humans. So far, the presents include eels, tuna, squid, at least one octopus and a variety of other fin fish. Discovery News reports the gifts are highly valued food sources for dolphins.
The first gift, from an adult male dolphin named Fred, was a dead moray eel, offered in July 1998, the Daily Mail notes.
According to a recently released report in the journal Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals, a group of wild bottlenose dolphins near the resort of Tangalooma, in Australia, have offered gifts to the biologists studying them at least 22 more times since the first incident with Fred. The paper notes that "[gift] giving has become an established but infrequent part of the culture" of that particular group of dolphins.
While food-sharing is not all that uncommon among animals of the same species, inter-species sharing (aside from the dead birds your cat tracks into the house) is a rare occurrence, Discovery News notes.
As of yet, researchers in Australia aren't 100 percent sure what triggered the dolphins' generosity, but according to EarthSky, they believe it may be some form of play behavior. Other explanations include a desire on the dolphins' part to give back, as the researchers have been feeding them for quite some time. The dolphins may also see the researchers as incompetent hunters that require an occasional handout.
(Image courtesy Flickr user Hans Pama)