TAMU-CC professor’s research helps understand dolphin reproduction

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas—Dr. Dara Orbach is an assistant professor of marine biology at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi. Earlier this year, Orbach, along with other researchers, published a study inspired by previous research that found that animals other than humans have sex for pleasure, including dolphins.

“Dolphins are very social animals and they mate for reasons other than conception. They mate to work out social bonds and dominance relationships, and it’s also important in play and social learning,” Orbach said. “In dolphins, they have [sex] all year, so the thought was maybe they have it because it’s a fun experience, or there’s some kind of fun associated with it. So that was the momentum, or the idea behind the research.”

In the course of the study, the researchers observed “Evidence of a Functional Clitoris in Dolphins,” which happens to be the name of the article.

“Our knowledge of clitoral morphology is quite rare,” she said. “It has been highly stigmatized as something that is socially a faux pas.”

Since the paper was published, the story has been shared in the New York Times, New York Post, and even talked about in a segment on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Orbach said she is grateful that the article has been shared and hopes it will shine a spotlight on science.

“I think it’s very important to make science accessible to people,” she said. “So the idea that someone could watch the Stephen Colbert Show and see this report and say, ‘Hey, did you know dolphins have sex for pleasure?’ at the dinner table … to take science and make it more accessible and to increase scientific literacy is definitely a priority of scientists around the world.”

While the subject is taboo, Orbach would like to emphasize that rigorous and legitimate work has gone into the research.

“I recognize that studying the clitoris of dolphins is going to be some fun media with it,” she said. “This shows how we can break stereotypes about social norms, and that science is science. So whether I’m studying the feet of mice or the vaginas of a dolphin, it’s still rigorous science and should be open to the public.”

Knowing that dolphins experience pleasure during intercourse, humans can apply and apply what we know about humans to the animals to help understand the animal’s breeding.

“In humans, we know that when women have an orgasm, there are contractions in the vagina, and that helps with the absorption of semen. So if the woman has a pleasurable experience, the vagina contracts, she is more likely to get pregnant with that event,” Orbach said. “So, if we find that females of other animals experience pleasure, and there are more vaginal contractions, that could definitely affect our ability to help with these different procedures in some way. breed animals in human-run facilities.”

This research can be repeated with other animals and can aid in the reproduction of species that require human intervention.

“In terms of these captive breeding programs, it could be very important for exotic and endangered animals, as a way to conserve them,” she said.

dr. Sarah Piwetz is the stranding biologist at the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. The organization, based in Galveston, oversees the entire coast of the Gulf of Texas, helping to reduce stranded marine mammals and retrieve deceased animals.

Piwetz said the research to be published in the paper will hopefully inspire people to get involved in marine mammal conservation across Texas.

“It’s exciting, new work that no one else is really doing, and it generates a lot of excitement and interest,” she said. “So one of our core missions is conservation, and of course one of our ways in which we can best protect animals is to get young generations excited across the board.”

Orbach said it’s too early to expect other scientists to contact them about the study inspiring similar research, but she said she’s been told that other research she’s done has served as inspiration for others, and hopes that this project will do the same.

“Techniques we’ve developed to study these animals are being applied to other animals, which is really exciting, as we’re innovators in the field and are coming up with new ways to conserve species across the board,” she said.

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