A few weeks ago, Erika Jarvis and a team of divers from OceanX, a not-for-profit ocean exploration initiative, set off to survey the Florida Keys Reef Tract. As they left the Miami harbor, a pod of five dolphins decided to follow them.
Jarvis noticed two of the dolphins were sweetly touching fins as they swam near the bow of the boat and took out her phone to capture the moment.
“They stayed with us for a really long time — about half an hour,” Jarvis, the director of social media at OceanX, told The Dodo. “There were about 20 of us up on the bow, peering down … The purser (the person who takes care of all the ship administration), who was standing next to me, looked at me and went, ‘Did. You. Get. That?’”
Once Jarvis was back on shore, she reached out to a cetacean researcher to find out more about the underwater hand-holding she’d witnessed.
“While it may look like these bottlenose dolphins coasting with the wake on our bow are engaging in a competitive handshake,” Jarvis wrote on Instagram, “fin-to-fin touching is actually a display of social bonding, especially between females in male-biased groups.”
A 2006 study found that “contact swimming” is not all that uncommon among bottlenose dolphins of the same gender. The underwater handshake can help female dolphins in several ways, including reducing stress, assisting movement and signaling cooperation.
It was clear to Jarvis that this pod of dolphins had a unique social structure and deep familial bonds. And by touching fins, the girls were showing that they had each other’s back no matter what.
“Their little synchronous breach really makes it extra sweet,” Jarvis said.