Dolphins are fascinating creatures — not to mention undeniably cute — but new research suggests that the social networks that Western Australian Dolphins form are far more complex than previously understood.
The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, looked at bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Groups of related males were observed forming gangs of males in what were otherwise open social networks, very similar to those that form the basis of human societies — and almost entirely dissimilar to those found in other mammalian groups. These alliances vary over time but can be extremely enduring; the study notes that some second order alliances (usually defensive arrangements regarding breeding access to female dolphins) endure for over fifteen years.
It’s an almost entirely male thing; the report notes that
Associations among adult female dolphins in Shark Bay are variable but never as strong as those between the most strongly bonded males. There are no reports of females forming alliances against other females in Shark Bay, and in over 25 years, there has been only one observation of females forming a temporary coalition against young males.
The only downside of reading all this research about dolphin sexual activity? I can never watch Flipper again without questioning his actual motives. [Proceedings of the Royal Society B]