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Social Behavior

Social Structure
Bottlenose dolphins live in groups called pods. A pod is a coherent long-term social unit. The size of a pod varies significantly with its composition. On the west coast of Florida, mean pod size is aboout seven animals. In the wild, pod composition and structure are based largely on age, sex, and reproductive condition. In general, size of pods tend to increase with water depth and openness of habitat. This may correlated with foraging strategies and protection.

Several pods may join temporarily (for several minutes or hours) to form larger groups called herds or aggregations. Up to several hundred animals have been observed traveling in one herd. There are certain factors that tend to cause a pod to either draw together or to disperse somewhat. Factors that tend toward cohesion include protection, fright, and familial associations. Factors that tend toward dispersion include alertness, aggression, and feeding.

Bottlenose dolphin's social behavior and organization are one of the most complex and advanced in the animal kingdom. There appears to be a dominant dolphin that leads the pod. Dominance is established among males in a series of behaviors such as tail slapping.

Social Behavior
Those bottlenose dolphins who are in a pod have established strong social bonds. It appears that certain animals prefer association with each other and recognize each other after periods of separation. Mother-calf bonds are long-lasting; a calf typically stays with its mother three to six years or more. Adult male pair bonds are strong and long-lasting. Male pairs often engage in a number of cooperative behaviors.

Bottlenose dolphins establish and maintain dominance by biting, chasing, jaw-clapping, and smacking their tails on the water. Dolphins often show aggression by scratching one another with their teeth, leaving superficial lacerations that soon heal. Traces of light parallel stripes remain on the skin of the dolphin. These marks have been seen in virtually all species of dolphins. Dolphins also show aggression by emitting bubble clouds from their blowholes.

During courtship, dolphins engage in head-butting and tooth-scratching. Bottle-nose dolphins often hunt together. (see: Methods of collecting food.) Dolphins have been observed frequently stroking each other with their flippers, hence, indicating that they require physical contact much like humans.


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