Every so often, nature presents an anomaly. This time, it’s happening near the bottom of the world—off the coast of South Africa.
Bottlenose dolphins, known for hanging out in large pods, typically aren’t found gathered in groups of more than 50 or 60. However, researchers studying Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) near South Africa are saying that they’ve gone from documenting an average of 18 dolphins per group in 2008 to 76 dolphins in 2016. Some have witnessed superpods as big as 600 members in Algoa Bay, where the pods have been bigger on average compared to just off the coast.
Here’s Kimberly Hickok, writing for Science Magazine:
The growth of the pods—and their location—is a mystery. Researchers expected larger groups to be found farther north in the Wild Coast region, where the water is deeper. But instead, the researchers say the dolphins may be gathering in the shallows in large groups for protection against sharks; many white sharks, which have been known to attack dolphins, live in the area.
These pods have been growing in size for the last decade, and scientists want to find out why. The answer could be important to understanding the evolving ecosystem of the area and how it relates to local climate and predation patterns.