New Film Shows Dolphins Getting High on Puffer Fish

By Shawn Dwyer 01/02/14

An upcoming BBC One documentary has discovered that dolphins like to get stoned off the puffer's toxins. But don't try it at home.

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Don't bogart that puffer...
Photo via BBC/John Downer Productions

Turns out dolphins and humans have more in common than previously thought.

According to a forthcoming documentary called Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, young bottlenose dolphins like to pass around the puffer fish and get high off the toxins.

Scientists and filmmakers dressed up a camera as an innocuous fish and set it loose in the ocean near Mozambique to swim with the dolphins. In the 900 hours of footage shot, the crew captured dolphins spending a half hour playing with the puffer fish. "This was a case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating," said zoologist Rob Pilley, one of the producers of the film. “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.” Apparently, the dolphins have done this kind of thing before. “We saw the dolphins handle the puffers with kid gloves, very gently and delicately like they were almost milking them to not upset the fish too much or kill it,” Pilley said.

While the discovery has lit up the internet, there are some who have issued caution that all might not be as it appears. "Tetrodotoxin simply doesn’t make sense as a drug," said Discover Science Sushi blogger Christie Wilcox. "Every illicit drug has one thing in common: they alter minds. It’s right there in the definition of narcotic. Tetrodotoxin, however, doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier; it doesn’t change perception or enhance sensation." And if you're human, you definitely don't want to try and huff a puffer yourself; one fish holds enough toxins to kill 30 humans.

Of course, not all dolphin behavior is cute or funny. The marine mammal has shocked scientists by indiscriminately killing small porpoises and desperately trying to hump human scuba divers.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.

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