ABC News Online is carrying a story about the way a pod of dolphins shielded a group of lifeguards from a great white shark off the coast of New Zealand. The lifeguards were on a training swim when the pod of dolphins began circling around them tightly. It wasn’t until the divers saw the shark that they realised what the dolphins were doing.
It’s truly remarkable that wild dolphins should display such altruistic behaviour toward humans. There are many stories where dogs have protected their masters from danger. This is somewhat understandable, given that dogs and humans have had a close relationship for centuries. One study shows that dogs have evolved to understand human beings, and that this trait is genetic. Putting it differently, humans have selectively bred dogs so that, to some extent, they can understand the gestures we make, and I suppose, so that they protect us. In effect, we’ve bred them to be loyal. But why should a pod of dolphins want to protect a group of humans? If the story is correct, surely this must rank as one of the best examples of altruistic behaviour exhibited by animals ever recorded.