Do Dolphins Get High? BBC Cameras Catch Dolphins Chewing On Pufferfish Toxins
Dolphins can't smoke pot underwater, so they make the best with what they've got. And that's blowfish. In a forthcoming documentary, Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, the BBC sent a drone submersible disguised as a fish to peek unnoticed into the world of sea creatures. They thought they were going to see beautiful mammals going about their native feeding and procreation duties. What they saw looked more like Cheech and Chong.
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"This was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating," Rob Pilley, a zoologist and producer of the show, 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."
Dude, pass the pufferfish. The creature, which goes by "pufferfish" and "blowfish" interchangeably, is one of the stranger ocean residents. They are common in warm waters globally and swim quite slowly and clumsily. As a result of their inathletic disposition, biologists say, they have developed two potent predator defenses. The first gives Tetraodontidae their colloquial name: they can inhale a massive amount of water and even sometimes air, swelling their slight frames to multiples of their size and making them more difficult to consume.
The other defense is what's making the dolphins so happy. Pilley says they were deliberately getting high on the poison tetrodotoxin, found inside pufferfish. In the description of the episode, the producers describe "a young male [leaving] the security of his mother's pod to set up life alone. He forms a strange friendship with a humpback dolphin, joins a teenage gang and discovers the narcotic effects of a hapless pufferfish." These dolphins seem to have been eating only enough to have some fun, but typically tetrodotoxin is extremely lethal — about 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide. According to National Geographic, "There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans, and there is no known antidote."
Nonetheless, humans like to eat it, too. Pufferfish, or "fugu" in Japan, is an expensive delicacy prepared only by trained and licensed chefs. Cut the wrong bit of meat, and someone can die real fast. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 1997 that fugu kills about 50 people every year in Japan, usually within a day of eating the fish and after hours of intense symptoms and paralysis.
"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 says. Toads are one thing. But Cracked.com has assembled a list of six animals that can get you high, and it includes giraffes and salamanders.
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