A decade-long study has found that male dolphins employ complex pick-up strategies, including offering gifts and rallying wingmen.
Male humpback dolphins try their hand, or er, fin at it too, presenting large marine sponges to females in an apparent effort to mate, according to newly published research. It’s the first time this behaviour has been witnessed in this species.
Following a decade of research undertaken from boats, scientists from the University of Western Australia, University of Zurich and Murdoch University published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.
While complex male sexual displays are common among animals, it’s far less prevalent to see objects being carried or used to attract a mate.
You’ll see this behaviour in male bowerbirds, who toss colourful objects in the air. In the case of the male humpback dolphin, researchers believe object carrying is a way to show the male’s strength and quality as a mating partner.
One dolphin was witnessed diving down to remove a marine sponge from the seafloor, balancing it on its beak, and finally pushing it toward the female. No cheesy guitar serenades here, praise be.
“We were at first perplexed to witness these intriguing behavioural displays by male humpback dolphins, but as we undertook successive field trips over the years, the evidence mounted,” Simon Allen from the University of Western Australia said in a statement.
“Here we have some of the most socially complex animals on the planet using sponges, not as a foraging tool, but as a gift, a display of his quality, or perhaps even as a threat in the behavioural contexts of socialising and mating.”
Another curious discovery was the use of wingmen by male humpback dolphins, working together in pairs to attract one mate. It’s a behaviour that’s also seen in lions, red howler monkeys, and of course, humans.
“The formation of alliances between adult males for the purposes of coercing females is uncommon, since mating success cannot be shared,” the paper’s co-author Stephanie King said.
As you’d know, gifts and wingmen don’t always work, and the next stage for these researchers is to examine if these particular sexual displays actually help these dolphins get lucky.