New research at the University of Bristol has found that male dolphins use whistling to maintain weaker but vital social relationships.
Researchers used data from nine years of observation in Shark Bay, Western Australia, to determine how dolphins maintain and reinforce vital social networks.
They found that dolphins have multi-layered alliances. Male dolphins who are strongly allied used petting and rubbing to strengthen their bond. In contrast, weakly bonded dolphins maintain their acquaintance through whistles.
Dr. Stephen King, senior author from the University of Bristol, stated:
“We found that within the core dolphin alliances, strongly bonded allies engaged in more affiliative contact behaviour, such as petting and rubbing, while weakly bonded allies engaged in more whistle exchanges. This illustrates that these weaker but still key social relationships can be maintained with vocal exchanges.”
While Emma Chereskin, the lead author from Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, commented on their findings, stating:
“Many animals, including humans, use tactile contact, touch, to strengthen and reaffirm important relationships. But as the number of close social relationships increases, so too do the demands on the time and space available for relationship maintenance through physical contact. Male bottlenose dolphins form strategic, multi-level alliances, and we wanted to know how they maintained multiple alliance relationships in large groups.”