Dolphins Can Get High on Puffer Fish, Says Nature Show

Documentary shows dolphins in trance-like state after snacking on puffer fish.

ByABC News
January 1, 2014, 5:34 PM
A new documentary on the BBC shows dolphins using pufferfish to get to a trance-like state.
A new documentary on the BBC shows dolphins using pufferfish to get to a trance-like state.
Getty Images

Jan. 1, 2014— -- Adventurous eaters may get a rush out of flirting with death by eating a piece of puffer fish, but dolphins may experience something completely different.

Filmmakers at John Downer Productions recorded the dolphins snacking on the puffer fish for the documentary "Dolphins: Spy in the Pod." After eating the puffer fish, the dolphins seemed to enter a trance-like state.

"[They were] hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection," John Downer, executive producer of the documentary, told International Business Times. "It reminded us of that craze a few years ago when people started licking toads to get a buzz."

Downing and his crew disguised the cameras to look like animals the dolphins would normally run into. But the fake animal cameras weren't meant to fool the dolphins into thinking they were real but rather to provoke their curiosity. "These novel devices tweaked the curiosity of the dolphin pods, encouraging the dolphins to let them into their lives, allowing them to capture behavior that has never been seen before," according to the production company's website.

Christie Wilcox, author of Discover's Science Sushi blog and a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, said that while dolphins were curious animals, she found it hard to believe that they were chasing the fish for a high.

"The puffer fish's tetrodotoxin shuts down nerve cells, but it doesn't cross the blood brain barrier," she told ABC News. "It's not like recreational drugs that have some effect on the brain, so I find it hard to believe that it would be pleasurable."

In addition, she said that if the dolphins really wanted to get high, there were other sea critters that would fit the bill. "In many areas of the world, sea bream are known to produce vivid visual and auditory hallucinations, much like tripping on acid," she said. "And of course, people have used them recreationally."