In the waters off French Polynesia a female bottlenose dolphin was spotted taking care of two calves and one, a male, seemed very different to the mom and female calf.

Scientists were excited to discover that the bottlenose mother had adopted a melon-headed whale calf, a completely different species and found such a case had never been reported before. Dolphins rarely care for more than one baby although they are known to adopt after losing a calf of their own.

We were really excited to be able to witness such a rare phenomenon,” Pamela Carzon, the study’s lead author and scientific leader of the Group d’Etude des Mammiferes Marins de Polynesie, told National Geographic. “At the time we were really, really astonished.”

Observing the family, Ms Carzon noticed the whale stayed close to his adopted mother’s side, jostled with his ‘sibling’ for position closest to mom and behaved like a dolphin – socializing, surfing and leaping in and out of the water with the other young dolphins.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Ethology, the authors reason that the mother’s “inexperience and personality” made it easier for the young whale and his “persistence in initiating and maintaining an association’ with the mother “could have played a major role in the adoption’s ultimate success”.

The mother’s biological calf disappeared at about 18 months old but the whale and dolphin mother stayed together until the whale was weaned, almost three years.

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