If dolphins were in the Olympics, high-jump competition would be off the charts

Striped dolphin versus bottlenose dolphin. Photo: Courtesy of Giovanni Bearzi

Dolphins are among the planet’s most prolific high jumpers, and perhaps in the spirit of the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a prominent researcher has shared a double image showing two species in a side-by-side comparison (top photo).

Bottlenose dolphin clearly wins over striped dolphin.

Giovanni Bearzi’s double image shows a striped dolphin jumping in the Gulf of Corinth off Greece, and a common bottlenose dolphin in the Northern Evoikos Gulf, also off Greece.

“Striped dolphins can jump high … but Bottlenose dolphins seem to be the winners,” Bearzi states in a blog post for Dolphin Biology and Conservation.

Bottlenose dolphin leaps about 15 feet clear of the surface. Photo: Courtesy of Giovanni Bearzi
The images reminded me of a personal experience two years ago, when bottlenose dolphins appeared to be engaged in a high-jumping competition among themselves off Dana Point, Calif.
I was aboard the 95-foot Dana Pride out of Dana Wharf Whale Watching, and as the boat picked up speed, the dolphins kept pace and began leaping even higher, some clearing 15 feet, despite other boats in a speedy pursuit behind our vessel (photo posted below).

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Bottlenose dolphin looks as though it could easily jump over a boat. Photo: Pete Thomas
Bottlenose dolphins are encountered sporadically in offshore waters beyond Southern California, and can be quite the exhibitionists. (See the accompanying video, captured this week off Dana Point by a 10-year-old visitor from Sweden.)I sent my photo to Bearzi, whose main area of focus is the Mediterranean Sea, and asked him if dolphins jump like this simply because they can, or purely for fun. researcher’s response: “Dolphins jump for a variety of reasons. In your photo, it seems to be excitement because of the stern wave created by the boat, which some dolphin species sometimes enjoy surfing. But it may be dominance displays, fights among males, males chasing a female, breaches producing sounds that can be heard from far away, etc.

“No, I don’t think that animals do anything just because they can. There must be some benefit or reason — hidden, subtle, or long-term as it may be. Nature just won’t waste energy. Having fun may be a reason, but ‘fun’ may bring benefits, too.”

Striped dolphins, sometimes referred to as “streakers” because of their rapid movements while in close proximity to fast-moving boats, can leap 15-plus feet above the surface.Bottlenose dolphins can attain heights closer to 20 feet.But all types of dolphins jump as they travel and socialize, and all are impressive in their own right.

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