The Secret Social Lives of Dolphins
By Sonia Weiser
We’ve seen pictures of dolphins socializing with humans, but do they socialize with each other?
A recent report published in the journal Marine Mammal Science by scientists at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University explains the social patterns of bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s east coast. Using photo-identification surveys from over a 6.5 year period, the scientists were able to track the movement behavior and association preferences of about 200 dolphins.
The photos revealed that dolphins spend more time with some dolphins over others, attaching themselves to a select group of “friends” rather than mingling with everyone equally. And like the occupants of middle school cafeteria tables, specific dolphin groups clustered in their own areas along the lagoon’s north-south axis.
Scientists also discovered that the physical landscape of the lagoon—some areas are narrower than others—affects the dolphins’ social patterns. According to Elizabeth Murdoch Titcomb, a research biologist at HBOI and one of the authors of the study, “communities that occupy the narrowest stretches of the Indian River Lagoon have the most compact social networks, similar to humans who live in small towns and have fewer people with whom to interact."