Dolphin Collides with Aussie Surfer

Could it teach other dolphins?

Mar 19, 2014
Outside Magazine

Two bottlenose dolphins on blue background.    Getty Images/iStockphoto

Skateboarders constantly have to worry about collisions with traffic, but surfers have nothing to fear, right? Unfortunately, one Aussie surfer learned the answer to this question the hard way. As reports, a dolphin collided with 27-year-old surfer Josh Wolfson—with a force equivalent to being hit by a motorcycle.

On Monday, Wolfson went with friends to the South Coast of Australian state New South Wales to celebrate his birthday at the beach. Wolfson is a bodybuilder, but even he stood no chance when a pod of dolphins swam through the water. One of the sea creatures knocked Wolfson off his board, and when he checked his wetsuit, he saw that it had been torn apart. Wolfson was airlifted to a Sydney hospital, where he was treated for pelvic injuries and released.

Despite some serious bruising, Wolfson quickly forgave his marine assailant. "It wasn't intentional or anything like that," he said. "I kind of felt bad for the dolphin. He's probably got a sore head."

We hope a proclivity for surfing collisions doesn't extend beyond this particular dolphin. According to new research—coincidentally from the University of New South Wales—social behavior can shape the genetic makeup of bottlenose dolphin populations.

Some dolphins in Western Australia's Shark Bay put sea sponges on their beaks while they forage on the sea floor, a skill that appears to be learned from their mothers. But this isn't simply an acquired behavior. Genetic analyses found that dolphins living in spongeless shallow water fell into one genetic group, while dolphins inhabiting deeper water fell into another.

"Our research shows that social learning should be considered as a possible factor that shapes the genetic structure of a wild animal population," said the study's lead author, Dr. Anna Kopps. "It is one of the first studies to show this effect—which is called cultural hitchhiking—in animals other than people."

The study indicates that other species might also be genetically influenced by social behaviors.

Surfers, we understand if you're rooting for Dr. Kopps to be wrong.

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