Male dolphins need cliques to attract mates just like men, study shows

Male dolphins need cliques to attract mates just like men, study shows

A study released Monday indicates that even male dolphins need wingmen and cliques to secure the interest of potential female mates.

The behavior of the dolphins, published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, is reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio’s group of buddies known as the “Pussy Posse” — who partied around New York City in the 1990s. One New York photographer quoted in a 1998 New York article saying of the posse, “They’re all about seeing the girls.”

The study shows that relationships between animals are similar to humans where dolphins will form multiple levels of alliances to reach their goals. The findings come after an international research team observed 121 adult male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins at Shark Bay in Western Australia.

Dolphins will form at least three separate levels of alliances between males to increase their odds of linking up with female dolphins, according to the findings.

First-order alliances make up between 3-4 dolphins in pursuit of mates with second-order alliances making up 4-14 dolphins that then compete with other groups that size, the study says. Third-order alliances can occur when those groups decide to join forces, a press release states.

The better that crews work together, the greater their chances of hooking up with a possible partner, said one of the study’s co-authors.

“Not only have we shown that male bottlenose dolphins form the largest known multilevel alliance network outside humans,” said Dr. Stephanie King, associate professor of the University of Bristol, in a press release from the school. “But that cooperative relationships between groups, rather than simply alliance size, allows males to spend more time with females, thereby increasing their reproductive success.”

Dr. Simon Allen, also part of the University of Bristol and study contributor, said how long the male dolphins hang with female dolphins depends heavily on if they are well-connected with third-order allies.

“That is, social ties between alliances leads to long-term benefits for these males,” he said in the press release.

Characteristics displayed by the dolphins prove that humans are not the only group that establish cooperative relationships, said another co-author of the study.

“But before our study, it had been thought that cooperative alliances between groups were unique to humans,” said University of Massachusetts professor emeritus Richard Connor, according to the Guardian.

The team of researchers compiled data for five years starting in 2001, tracking dolphins and listening to them with the help of identifying whistles to tell them apart, the newspaper reported. The teams are formed when dolphins become young. They can survive for decades which is what King called a “significant investment”.

“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,” said King, the Guardian reported. “These males have a very, very clear idea of who is in their team.”

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