bottlenose dolphins
© newsteam / Sea Watch Foundation
The bottlenose dolphins, which were off the Welsh coastline at the time, were caught on video for the first time playing jellyfish football.
Scientists working off the Welsh coastline have made an astonishing discovery - dolphins playing football using jellyfish as a ball.

A team of marine biologists working in Cardigan Bay were amazed to see dolphins swim under a jellyfish and, with a sudden flick of their tails, shoot it out of the water.

The wild bottlenose dolphins were caught on video at Tremadog Bay for the first time playing "jellyfish football".

And - in an impressive aquatic bid to bend it like Beckham - one dolphin is seen flipping the barrel jellyfish as high as six feet into the air.

Experts believe the game goes back hundreds of thousands of years and that it may go some way towards explaining why dolphins in captivity are so skillful with balls at sea life parks across the world.

Jonathan Easter, 23, said: "One thing is for sure, they were having fun.

"There were floating blobs of jelly and the dolphins were flipping them about.

"They swim under the jellyfish, then at the right moment flick their tail up to give it a good 'kick' up in the air.

"They were not always accurate but when they had a direct hit the jellyfish were literally smashed out of the water.

"We have been studying individual dolphins in Welsh waters for some time but we got more than we expected from this trip.

"These incredible images provide a privileged insight into the lives and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins.

"But this behaviour has never been seen before and it presents more questions than answers!"

There's a sting in the tail, however.

Some of the Barrel jellyfish, a species which can grow to the size of dustbin lids, died from being flipped.

Marine biologists from the Countryside Council for Wales, the Sea Watch Foundation and Marine Awareness North Wales discovered the jellyfish football while studying the bottlenose dolphins who gather in Cardigan Bay.

The area has Britain's largest coastal population of bottlenose dolphins.

Every summer, between 150 and 250 dolphins inhabit these waters, making it a very significant breeding and feeding ground.

Professor Paul Brain, chair of zoology at Swansea University and an expert in animal behaviour, said yesterday: "I'd never heard of this happening in the wild before with dolphins but it does not surprise me.

"I would not say this was just a case of dolphins having fun.

"There could be beneficial effects for dolphins which learn to manipulate the physical environment around them.

"For instance if something floats towards them they are not sure about they may developed enough skill to flip it away from them and make an escape.

"Dolphins are renowned for being very skilful with various types of balls in captivity in marine parks. To see it in the wild however is something new and something which needs more research.

"I have a feeling what could be going on here might well be linked to the fact that dolphins use sonar-like echo location to navigate.

"It might be that by flipping these jellyfish high into the air, a certain sound results when they plop down into the water.

"This behaviour could be linked to their highly developed underwater hearing. Don't forget, dolphins use sound reflection just like bats to get around so I have a feeling this is being used in some way to develop that skill.

"But it could also be something simple, such as the jellyfish making a sound that is pleasing to the dolphins when it re-enters the water from a height.

"Although they might enjoy it however, they are learning useful skills at the same time."

Huw Thomas, a Mumbles based fisherman said: "I've seen dolphins jumping in and out of the water many times down in Cardigan Bay but I've never seen they play football or 'flipper ball' before.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they are just having fun with the jellyfish.

"Whenever they jump up next to the boat they look as if they are smiling, they are real mischievous characters who like to interact with others.

"You can't help feeling sorry for the jellyfish, though."