In a first, researchers in New Zealand have found a dolphin breathing through its mouth instead of its blowhole, a behavior never seen before.
Dolphins have until now been known to use their blowholes to breathe and the new discovery highlights the animal’s ability to adapt.
The animal is a Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori), an endangered species that was recorded and photographed performing the unusual feat by researchers from the University of Otago.
Dolphins — being mammals and not fish — breathe air. The blowhole on top of their heads functions as the “nose,” helping the creatures expel old air and fill their lungs with new air when they surface.
Rather than breathing out of its blowhole like the rest of its species, the creature emerged from the water at a steep angle with its head higher than normal. This allowed it to take gulps of air as it broke the surface of the water before diving beneath the waves again.
It is one of the only known examples of a dolphin learning to breathe through its mouth.
Here’s how wide the blowhole normally opens when a dolphin takes in air:
Writing in the journal Marine Mammal Science, Professor Stephen Dawson, a marine biologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and his colleagues said:
‘In every surfacing we observed, the dolphin approached the surface at a steep angle, with its head emerging higher than normal from the water surface.
[Watch Video]: Never before seen behaviour : Dolphin breathes through its mouth
“Its blowhole did not open widely as is normal, but remained shut. Meanwhile, noise consistent with taking in air was “clearly audible as the dolphin opened its mouth.”
It was the only dolphin in its group to breathe in that fashion.
The researchers believe the dolphin may have suffered an injury that stopped it from opening its blowhole properly or suffered from some sort of developmental problem.