dolphins v. jellyfish

I recently heard a report on NPR that said dolphins like to use their flippers in an effort to propel jellyfish through the air in what seemed to be an act of play. Soccer, except with jellyfish as the ball.


Unfortunately, jellyfish don’t generally survive the humiliation.

Researchers in Wales discovered this surprising, never-before seen behavior.

The story made me wonder a few things. First off, is Wales its own country? Second, are there other animals that engage in what we as humans might think of as sport? And, finally, don’t jellyfish stings hurt dolphins?

Here’s what I found out:

  • Yes, Wales is its own country. In fact, after reading about its history in Wikipedia, I began to suspect that Wales may have been Tolkien’s inspiration for the setting of Lord of the Rings. At least the historical names sound suspiciously Elvish.
  • When I googled “are there animals that play sports,” the results were either about animal sports movies (one person’s Amazon list on the topic featured Soccer Dog: The Movie and Soccer Dog: European Cup numbers one and two, respectively) or animals capable of playing human sports. I’ll keep researching this one.
  • I could not find an answer to my third question. Though I did come upon this passage at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website:

Stings usually paralyze or kill only small creatures (fish, small crustaceans), but some jellyfish are harmful to humans. Although jellyfish do not “attack” humans, swimmers and beachcombers can be stung when they come into contact with the jellyfish tentacles with functional nematocysts. The severity of the sting depends on the species of jellyfish, the penetrating power of the nematocyst, the thickness of exposed skin of the victim and the sensitivity of the victim to the venom. The majority of stings from jellyfish occur in tropical and warm temperate waters. Most species off the southeastern coast are capable of inflicting only mild stings that result in minor discomfort.

I’m guessing that they do sting dolphins, and that the stings must hurt. But, clearly, these bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Wales are too in the game to care.


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