But Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany, who was not part of the study, was skeptical that the interaction was intentionally educational. It’s more likely that the youngsters were observing because they were curious, she says.
And because anacondas are strong, Dr. Wild wonders if the snake was injured or dead before the dolphins reached it. Of all the things you might pick up, “this seems a little out of the ordinary,” she said.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of dolphins playing with a large snake,” added Dr. Wild about it, who has observed bottlenose dolphins using shells as tools.
Something else from the photos was notable – the erect penises of the male dolphins.
“It could be sexually stimulating for them,” said Diana Reiss, a marine mammal scientist and cognitive psychologist at Hunter College in New York, who was not involved in the study. “It could have been something to rub on.”
The excited males could have had a sexual romp with each other before the snake got entangled.
Researchers who study dolphins are well aware of the animals’ sexual tendencies, such as rubbing their genitals on toys or inserting their penises into objects, live and alive. They often use their penises for tactile interactions, says Dr. travel. She has even observed male bottlenose dolphins attempting to enter the blowhole of a rescued pilot whale in an aquarium. It’s possible, she added, that the males tried to insert their penises into the hose.
“There are so many questions,” says Mr. Entiauspe-Neto.
Much more is known about ocean-dwelling dolphins than about river dolphins, in part because it’s harder to see what’s going on when the river water is muddy. While limited in nature, “these observations are always valuable,” says Dr. travel. “It gives us another glimpse of the lives of these animals, especially in the wild.”
Whatever happened in this animal encounter, it’s not the stuff of children’s storybooks.