Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

Watch Dolphins Amuse Themselves By Playing With Delicate Bubbles

Even sea creatures need to find a work-life balance.

With all the trials and tribulations of underwater life, some ocean dwellers have to find ways to de-stress.

That’s exactly what these dolphins do in this video, posted by YouTube account torenheksje in January 2008. Viewers watch at an aquarium as one of Earth’s most intelligent creatures manipulates delicate water rings for personal amusement.

Dolphins are cetaceans—members of a group of mammals containing whales and porpoises—meaning they voluntarily regulate their breathing, an evolutionary adaptation to aquatic life that gives these animals a precise ability to manage their air flow. But what good would that ability serve if not to inspire a little fun?

The dolphins’ exhalations are carefully controlled. And so are their expertly timed vortex bodily motions, in which they use the tips of their dorsal fins to create bubbles, rings, and even donut-shaped formations around expelled air, often solely for entertainment purposes. For the dolphins, the possibilities are endless with their newfangled creations. Biting, swimming through, swiping at the rings and bubbles—the fun never stops.

This play isn’t just meaningless filler. In fact, it’s an indicator of extremely high social intelligence, the same intelligence that allows them to recognize themselves in mirrors and to use buttons on underwater keyboards to request toys from humans. Bottlenose dolphins have even been reported to use bubble rings to corral and confuse prey, clumping schools of fish together for easier access.

Dolphins have earned the reputation for being oceanic Einsteins, and rightfully so. Their EQ, or encephalization quotient, which measures the ratio of brain weight to body weight, is the second highest in the animal kingdom, behind only humans—and as most of us can attest, no matter how smart we are, there’s always time for a bit of fun.

Every day we track down a Video Wonder: an audiovisual offering that delights, inspires, and entertains. Have you encountered a video we should feature? Email ella@atlasobscura.com.