The most comprehensive study yet of dolphin society has drawn headlines around the world because it reports on homosexual behavior.
The study of more than 120 adult male bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. The dolphins were all tagged and given names, such as ‘Captain Hook’ and ‘Flat Fin’ based on the shape of their fins.
It found an open society without defended boundaries, unlike with other mammals. The dolphins had intense social lives, full of “constant drama.”
The dolphins were found to engage in extensive bisexuality, combined with periods of exclusive homosexuality. Male pairs, or even trios, cooperated to sequester and herd individual females during the mating season.
Most males are also members of second order alliances consisting of 4 to 14 males. Such relationships appear to be long lasting, with one known 7-member group still intact after 17 years.
Study co-author Richard Connor told Discovery News that while dolphins can be aggressive, they found a “make love not war” lifestyle.
“We have seen precious little aggression between females,” Connor said. “It does occur and is probably less frequent and more subtle.”
As for males, even though “they are capable of serious aggression,” he said, “they don’t squabble constantly.”
This open but complex social structure was described by researchers as similar to that of human males.
“I have often thought, as I watched their complicated alliance relationships, that their social lives would be mentally and physically exhausting, and I’m glad I’m not a dolphin,” Connor said.
He speculated that certain shared circumstances among the “big three” animals (dolphins/sperm whales, humans and elephants) favor alliances, which could have driven big brains, social cognition and more.
Watch Animal Planet report on the dolphins of Shark Bay:
Picture by That Dam Kat