Friday, July 06, 2012


One of the many intriguing curiosities of the natural world is the creation of bubble rings by dolphins and beluga whales, which has been observed in dolphinariums and in the wild.

Interest in this phenomenon was created in the late 1990s when photos and videos of this  behaviour first appeared in the media.

The main source was the Sea Life Park Hawaii and the Project Delphis laboratory attached to it, run by the NGO Earthtrust, founded in 1976 to promote the conservation of marine mammals.

An article, Ring Bubbles of Dolphins written for Scientific American in 1996, by two scientists from Project Delphis (which researched dolphin self-awareness and intelligence), a fluid dynamics expert at NASA’s Ames Research Center and Earthtrust’s founder Don J.White, remains one of the few scientific papers available on the topic. [Marten, K., Shariff, K., Psarakos, S., & White, D. J. (1996, August). Ring bubbles of dolphins. Scientific American, 275, 83-87].

‘In recent years, researchers at several oceanariums around the world have reported that a variety of marine mammals can blow smooth, stable rings of air that linger in the water for several seconds… these bubbles are clearly not a spontaneous response to alarm or a standard part of communication.’

The dolphins were observed entertaining themselves by either blowing bubbles from their blowholes  - which, as they rise to the surface, expand in radius and decrease in thickness to form a ring -  or swirling the water with their find or tail and then blowing bubbles into the resulting vortices.

‘[We] believe ring blowing is more common at Sea Life Park Hawaii than at other aquariums; the dolphins here appear to have created a “ring culture” in which novice dolphins learn to make rings in the presence of experts that, in a sense, pass down the tradition.

‘Ring making is a leisurely pastime, so the animals generate rings only when they want to — not on command or for a reward of food. Furthermore, ring making does not seem to be associated with functional behaviors such as eating or sexual activity. ‘


A magnificent shot of a beluga blowing a bubble ring. The provenance of this picture is unclear. It is on two sites and

More pics of belugas blowing bubble rings here.



Divers have learnt to do the same thing. Great portfolio here:

Three other blogs have written on this topic from different angles and contain further links and videos:

Discovering Animal Behaviour 2012

The Gleaming Retort Dolphin Bubble Rings

See also: Bubble Rings on Wikipedia

‘Bubble ring play of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus): implications for cognition’ by McCowan B, Marino L, Vance E, Walke L, Reiss D. J Comp Psychol. 2000 Mar;114(1):98-106. Get pdf here


Dolphins: The Cove & The History Behind It

Dolphins Revisited

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