Researchers from Flinders University have discovered humpback dolphins are social animals with high levels of association.
The study, conducted by Dr Tim Hunt, tracked a population of the threatened species off the North West Cape, near Exmouth, for three years to find out more about the nature of their relationships.
Dr Hunt said the research showed humpback dolphins lived in a dynamic fission-fusion society, characterised by strong same-sex preferred associations.
“Our results suggest greater social complexity than previously recognised for humpback dolphins,” he said.
“Males demonstrated strong social bonds, and a large proportion of the population were female that demonstrated high levels of residency.”
Before this research, everything known about humpback dolphins in Australia was based on two studies conducted on the east coast which did not differentiate by gender.
However, the Ningaloo study found male dolphins would often stay together in pairs to help coerce females into mating.
The males were also involved in an activity known as sponging, in which they would bring a sponge to the surface of the water, to present to a female. Dr Hunt said knowing the social interactions of individuals was critical to ensure the long-term protection of the population.
“By understanding the social relationships among individuals, we are well positioned to provide the necessary base for assessing human impacts on the social structure of this threatened species,” he said.
The study was published in Behavioural Ecology.