Male Dolphins Have (Many) Wingmen | Smart news

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Western Australia
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Not only do dolphins have wingmen, but they form the largest complex social networks of all non-human animals, according to a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have studied the relationships between Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Shark Bay in Western Australia since the early 1980s. In the new paper, they looked at the social networks of 121 of these adult male dolphins between 2001 and 2006, relying on the animals’ unique whistles to tell them apart. The researchers found that, on average, each man had a direct link with 22 other men and was at least indirectly linked to all 120 of the others, writes. Science‘s Virginia Morell.

Previous studies had shown that male bottlenose dolphins use social connections to increase the likelihood of finding a mate Science. But the new paper provides a more complete picture of how the marine mammals use these networks.

“These men have a very, very clear idea of ​​who is on their team,” Stephanie King, a study co-author and behavioral biologist at the University of Bristol in England, told the newspaper. Guardian’s Sofia Quaglia.

The male dolphins work in groups to find mates to herd and mate with, and they also work together to defend themselves against others who want to capture the females, writes the Guardian.

Here’s how they do it: Each male dolphin belongs to a small group of “close friends,” perhaps two to three animals in total. They look for partners together, and when they need reinforcements, a second group of allies joins them, bringing the social circle to a whopping 14 men. Sometimes two groups of these second-order alliances can unite against a common threat — expanding the alliance network from a single dolphin to something between 22 and 50 others, according to the Guardian. And these relationships can last for decades.

Richard Wrangham, a Harvard primatologist who did not contribute to the study, likens a dolphin’s role in such a three-tier network to membership in “a platoon, a company, and a regiment.” Science.

The stronger the bonds between the dolphins, the more successful they were at mating, writes the Guardian. More than just the number of connections, the strength of a dolphin’s network led to its breeding success, King said in a press release.

While other non-human animals work together, none of them form “multi-level alliances to achieve goals,” said Athena Aktipis, a collaboration theorist at Arizona State University who was not involved with the paper. Science. “It’s interesting and cool that the dolphins do that.”

The research appears to support an idea called the “social brain” hypothesis — that some mammals evolved larger brains to navigate social networks, according to the study. Guardian. Bottlenose dolphins are “a dramatic demonstration of the positive correlation between brain size and social complexity,” Wrangham says Science.

“It’s no coincidence” that humans and dolphins are the animals with the largest brains compared to the size of their bodies, said Richard Connor, the paper’s lead author and behavioral ecologist at Florida International University. Guardian.

While both humans and dolphins have extensive social networks, they appear to have evolved in different ways, according to Science. Researchers think that humans have intergroup collaboration because of our long-term partnerships in which males help raise offspring. In this way, each partner’s relatives expand the couple’s social circle by showing an interest in raising their children. But dolphin males don’t help raise young, showing that their social structure evolved for a different reason Science.

“I would say that dolphins and humans have come together in the evolution of alliances between groups,” Connor tells the Guardian.

Mauricio Cantor, a behavioral ecologist at Oregon State University who did not contribute to the paper, said: Science that this new research “helps bridge the immense, perceived gap between humans and other animals.”

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