According to a new documentary on the BBC wild dolphins have been found to use puffer fish in order to place themselves in a “trance like state.” This state is reminiscent of the high people feel when taking certain drugs. The nature show is titled “Dolphins: Spy in the Pod.” John Dower the executive producer of the nature documentary told the International Business Times that after the dolphins bite the puffer fish they were “hanging around with their noses at the surface [of the water] as if fascinated by their own reflection.”  

Scenes from the documentary show young dolphins taunting the puffer fish until it is provoked into releasing a nerve toxin. In large amounts this toxin is deadly but the dolphins seemed to have figured out how to annoy the puffer fish in just the right way so they only release a small amount of the chemical. The dolphins can enjoy the puffer’s narcotic effect by chewing lightly on the fish and then passing it to the next dolphin.  Rob Pilley a zoologist that worked as a producer on “Spy in the Pod” spoke with the Sunday Times saying:

“This was the case of young dolphins purposely experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating. After chewing on the puffer gently and passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly…It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people starting licking toads to get a buzz, especially the way they hung there in a daze  afterwards. It was the most extraordinary thing to see.” One skeptic, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii believes that there is another motive for the dolphins’ behavior.

The toxin the fish releases is called Tetrodotoxin and is said to be 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. Graduate student and author of the Discover Science Sushi blog Christie Wilcox believes that the effect the dolphins are experiencing after coming in contact with the toxin is not an enjoyable one. “Tetrodotoxin simply doesn’t make sense as a drug,” Wilcox writes in her blog. “Every illicit drug has one thing in common: they alter minds…Tetrodotoxin, however, does not cross the blood-brain barrier; it doesn’t change perception or enhance sensation.”

Dolphins are a naturally curious animal. So if it is not for the high they must have some other interest in tormenting the puffer fish. It could just be for entertainment purposes, in a video posted to YouTube we see a pod of dolphins playing with a puffer fish like teenage boys play with a football. According to National Geographic one puffer fish contains enough of the deadly toxin to kill 30 adult humans. National Geographic also writes that there are some species of puffer fish that are considered vulnerable due to pollution but most species are stable.