Dolphin Megapod Of Thousands Of Spinner Dolphins Seen Underwater For First Time In BBC Documentary
The same people who brought you dolphins passing around a pufferfish to get high now bring you something else you've definitely never seen before. A dolphin megapod, captured by an underwater drone camera disguised as a tuna, gathered for what basically amounts to a dolphin conference in the waters near Costa Rica. A BBC documentary film crew witnessed the whole thing for the upcoming series Dolphins: Spy in the Pod.
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Dolphins like to have company, so they usually travel in pods of up to 10 or 12 other dolphins. But sometimes, they cluster in numbers into the tens of thousands, just to hang out and socialize over a meal of fish. In Spy in the Pod, the filmmakers estimate they saw between 3,000 and 5,000 spinner dolphins, The Gaurdian reported (they also have a beautiful slide show). Spinner dolphins are named for their ability to contort themselves into brilliant spins as they bolt out of the water. "Spy tuna," as they producers call the disguised camera, caught the mechanics of that jumping ability for the first time.
"Although dolphins normally travel in small groups, they sometimes come together in spectacular numbers," the documentary narrator says. "This is a superpod, made up of hundreds upon hundreds of dolphins. But it's not spy tuna's only revelation. She soon discovers just how their extraordinary leaps are performed. Rapid beats of the tail provide the power."
Megapods aren't uncommon, but when they happen it's usually news. "Last year, there were more megapods around...I think it's because fish are congregating near shore," Nigella Hillgarth, a San Diego aquarium director, told 10 News when a megapod assembled off the coast there in November. In February, also in San Diego, there were reportedly 100,000 dolphins in a "super-megapod."
Spy in the Pod, which premiers Jan. 2, is a novel documentary in that it pries into the private lives of dolphins using sea creature lookalikes: a tuna, a turtlem and a squid. It wasn't the first film the BBC has made using spy gear, but it was the first time they sent the cameras underwater. "The devices we had to build this time around, they had to obviously go under the water," zoologist and producer Rob Pilley told BBC Breakfast. "Some of them were going down to about 25 meters, so they had all manner of pressures to deal with. And some of them in the process of filming, they did get slightly damaged. ... Some of them the glass blew in front of them. Other ones, for example, squid cam actually got eaten. Got eaten by a giant fish."
Director John Downer said the disguised cameras is important because the animals accept it as a normal part of their environment. That's what enabled them to capture a pod of adolescent dolphins gnawing on and then passing around a pufferfish to get high on the toxins inside it. "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," Pilley said.
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