Teenagers aren’t the only ones who like to experiment.
Footage captured by a recent BBC documentary shows young dolphins carefully manipulating a puffer fish, whose nerve toxin provokes a trance-like state. The BBC’s "Dolphins: Spy in the Pod" used underwater camera to capture the unusual moment.
“This was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating,” zoologist Rob Pilley, who worked on the series, told the Sunday Times. “After chewing the puffer gently and passing it around, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection.”
While ingesting large doses of the puffer fish’s toxin could be deadly, the dolphins have found a way to take in the right amount for a narcotic effect. “It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see,” Pilley said.
The BBC documentary used spy cameras attached to robotic fish and turtles to capture the 900 hours of footage. The scene where the dolphins are seen ingesting the puffer fish is featured in the second episode of the series.
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“The Spy Creatures were designed to infiltrate the dolphins’ hidden lives by looking like the marine creatures a dolphin might encounter in their everyday lives,” according to the production website. “These novel devices tweaked the curiosity of the dolphin pods, encouraging the dolphins to let them into their lives, allowing them to capture behavior that has never been seen before.”
Puffer fish, or fugu, are considered one of the most poisonous vertebrates in the world. The fish literally puff out by swallowing water to warn prey they are dangerous. In fact, their toxin is 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. The toxin, tetrodotoxin, targets the nervous system, first affecting the extremities, then paralyzing the respiratory system and finally the brain.
Dolphins aren’t the only mammals to discover that a deadly toxin can also produce a high. Humans – both deliberately and by mistake – have been known to get high from snake bites. Venomous snakes, like cobras, emit a kind of neurotoxin that can produce the same effects as recreational drugs do. In February 2012, Indian partygoers reportedly took pills containing cobra venom that went for $400 to $500 per dose.