Hunting Together

When your old fishing buddy has a snout and a blowhole

Every summer in waters off the town of Laguna in Brazil's southeast corner, fishers wade out in estuary canals to cast their nets in hopes of catching migratory mullet fish.

The water is murky, and the fish are difficult to spot. But the fishers have help from an unexpected quarter : bottlenose dolphins that push the prey toward the nets.

The two species of predators have coordinated their fishing for generations.

'' The experience of fishing with dolphins is unique,'' said Wilson F. Dos Santos, a Laguna fisherman.

He learned the practice when he was 15, seeing how dolphins dive suddenly to signal to the humans that they've driven fish close to the net. Then they may grab a few fish from the net.

In a new study, a team of Brazilian scientists reported that dolphins may benefit from the cooperation. Those that fish with humans seem to live longer than other dolphins in the area do.

''Human-wildlife cooperation in general is a rare phenomenon at a global scale,'' said Mauricio Cantor, a biologist at Oregon State University and an author of the paper.

''Usually,'' he said, ''humans gain the benefit, and nature pays the cost. But this interaction has been happening for over 150 years.'' [ Asher Elbein ]


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