In an effort to stop dolphins from pilfering fish out of human nets, some researchers in Greece began experimenting with ways to deter the horny aquatic mammals. After several failed attempts involving noisemakers and camouflage nets, the scientists turned to a tried-and-true classic: pepper spray.
Or, more specifically, they laced the fishermen's nets with capsaicin. That spicy chemical is frequently used as a deterrent for land-based mammals, as well as some birds and insects. But not the dolphins. From Hakai Magazine:
The first time dolphins interacted with their hot sauce–spiked nets, two individuals spent no more than 15 minutes tearing 217 holes in the gear.
While it's known that many cetaceans, including bottlenose dolphins, lack four of the five primary tastes—they can only pick up salty—spiciness is registered by a different set of sensory cells through chemesthesis. This process, which signals sensations such as pain and heat, is little studied in the species. Other toothed whales do appear to have the hardware required for capsaicin detection, notes [Aurélie] Célérier, [a neuroscientist at the University of Montpellier in France who specializes in marine mammal communication], but there's a lot left to learn.
It's possible that the dolphins used their notorious super-smarts to work a way around the capsaicin (maybe they stocked up on cow's milk beforehand?). It's also entirely possible that dolphins simply have, as The Atlantic put it, "elite spice tolerance."
Or maybe they just really like hot sauce.
Dolphins Shrug Off Hot Sauce–Spiked Nets [Sarah Keartes / Hakai]
Dolphins don't mind hot sauce: testing the effect of gill net coating on depredation rates [Maria Garagouni, Georgia Avgerinou, George Minos, Kostas Ganias / arine of Mammal Science Journal]
Image: Public Domain via Pexels