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Male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are known for their peculiar and complex social systems that resemble those of chimpanzees.
The male marine mammals can form intricate alliances to patrol large home ranges and attract females for mating.
Now, two new studies are shedding new insights into the bottlenose dolphins’ social system and how they maintain their friendships, Science Magazine reported.
In the first study, researchers looked into which factors influenced a male dolphin’s reproductive success. They analyzed which males had the strongest bonds – based on how much time individuals spent together – and which spent more time with many members of their alliance.
Their findings showed that males with the most offspring had the strongest social bonds and were friends with all members of their alliance. The animal’s age or size of his home range did not predict paternity success.
“A lone male stands no chance in this system,” said primatologist Frans de Waal, who was not involved in either study.
The second paper, meanwhile, discovered that males use vocal exchanges – such as whistling – to maintain friendships.
In general, males with strong bonds would have more physical contact among themselves, such as petting and rubbing. But researchers observed that the dolphins employed whistling to keep in contact with other males with whom they were weakly bonded. They described this exchange as “a low-cost way” to maintain relationships between males.
De Waal noted that the findings provide more evidence of dolphins’ high social skills, which further underscores that humans are not the only creatures with that capability.