Marine Biology

Dolphins and their Complex Social Behaviors



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Dolphin social behavior is said to mirror that of humans right along with their intellect. They are one of few species in the wild that bond together and whereby the mother and her calf have long-term relationships.

The most social of the dolphin species is the bottle nosed dolphin. The bottle nose dolphins travel in packs or "pods" with the average sized pod consisting of seven dolphins, although in deeper waters the size of a pod is found to be larger and experts believe this is for aid in foraging. Pods typically stay together for the long term and the semblance of a pod is not just based on familial ties, although this is certainly a part of it since the mother and her calves stay together for thee to six years, but can also come together due to reasons of age, sex or reproductive ability as well as more emotionally focused reasons such as for protection. A pod can disband as well and this is similar to human nature in that it is typically caused by aggression.

There are times when pods will join, forming a herd of many dolphins, which I would love to see, but this is typically a short term joining and therefore is not seen very often.

The most intimate social behaviors exhibited by bottle nose dolphins within the pod are, again, between the mother and calf and also when two adult male dolphins become so close they actually mirror each other's behavior. It is said that these dolphins can identify one another.

Some of the not so nice behaviors of the bottle nose dolphin can include:

- Scratching each other with their teeth, which while easily healed leaves a white streak on the skin of the scratched dolphin.

- Gaining dominance through biting or chasing other dolphins, open and closing their jaws (called clapping), and smacking their tails on the water.

- When courting a female dolphin, butting heads and scratching are common place.

The bottle nose dolphin is active both day and night and they are known to enjoy riding on the waves caused by boats, jumping (some as high as 16 feet from the surface of the water), and chasing one another.

The dolphin is a truly amazing and beautiful species and if one ever gets the opportunity to hit Discovery Cove at Sea World you can meet them up close and personal. It is a wonderful experience I recommend highly.

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