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Male Dolphins Have Wingmen Scientists Say

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Male Dolphins have wingmen
Photo by Mike Prince on Flickr

Humans aren’t the only animal to have wingmen, according to scientists in a multi-university collaboration. Dolphins have been observed using the same techniques as well to help each other with the opposite sex.

Male bottlenose dolphins have been found to form lifelong bonds, and assist one another with the task of finding a mate. The cohesive group alliance assist one another by keeping competitors at bay.

“These dolphins have long-term stable alliances, and they have intergroup alliances. Alliances of alliances of alliances, really,” says Dr Richard Connor, co-author of the study, and lead behavioural ecologist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Dr Connor added that before the study co-operative alliances were thought to be unique to humans.

The initial research was conducted between 2001 and 2006, when researchers observed the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Western Australia. More than two hundred bottlenose dolphins were followed during the peak of mating season, between September and November.

In the lab they looked at the data of 121 of these dolphins, honing in on their social patterns, and for the next decade, they continued to observe the dolphins and their complex social networks.

The researchers discovered huge similarities to humans in the male dolphins’ behaviours. A primary alliance was formed amongst two or three male dolphins, equivalent to best friends. The group expanded to a secondary group of up to 14 dolphins. The group helped each other in finding females to mate with, including stealing females from and warding off theft from rival groups. With their wingmen to help them keep away the competition, the dolphins had more time to get to know and bond with the females.

“What happens as a male, you might be in a trio, herding a female. And if someone comes to take that female, the other males in your team and your second-order alliance come in and help you,” Dr Stephanie King, who is a professor in animal behaviour at Bristol University, said.zsx and one of the authors of the study.

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