Rubbing behavior on distinct substrates is part of the natural physical contact behavior in cetaceans and has only been observed in a few odontocetes, for example in killer whales (Orcinus orca) (Ford et al., 2000) and beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) (Smith et al., 1992). The repeated rubbing behavior of wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) around Hurghada and El Gouna in the Northern Red Sea, Egypt, against three distinct marine invertebrates is reported here. The dolphins glide toward and rub their skin against the following invertebrates accessed selectively and preferentially: the gorgonian coral Rumphella aggregata, the leather coral Sarcophyton sp., and the sponge Ircinia sp. They use distinct substrates for particular body parts due to the unique properties of the invertebrates (i.e. texture) and differences in the sensitivity of their body parts (i.e. strong head rubbing against the harder sponge structure). Up to now, the intention behind this rubbing behavior has been unclear. We hypothesized that this behavior serves the purpose of self-medication.
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