Abstract

Newborn characteristics, patterns of motoric and social behavioural development, and mother-infant relationships in free-ranging and semi-provisioned bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) are examined. Nine newborns were observed for 189 hours over the first 10 weeks of life. Newborn infants breathe more often than their mothers, and synchronize their breathing and swimming with her soon after birth, but show a gradual decline in synchrony as they age. Virtually all patterns of infant behaviour, mother-infant proximity, and spatial relationships with the mother changed as a function of infant age. Maternal activity, however, does not change over time, except that mothers decrease their role in maintaining proximity to their infants from the first month to the second month of infant life. Infants spend less time close to their mothers, less time echelon swimming (close, alongside the mother), and more time infant-position swimming (in contact under the mother) as they age. Infants spend more time traveling and socializing independently over time. They also separate from their mothers more often and for longer periods of time. Infants do not forage during the newborn period, but are observed 'practice foraging' by the end of the first month. Rubbing, petting, chasing, and displaying with other animals (including the mother) were common forms of socializing. Infants frequently initiate rubbing with their mothers, with particular focus on her head region. Infants typically associate with young females, adult females and other infants, but not with adult or subadult males. Developmental shifts and overall patterns are discussed in the context of the bottlenose dolphin's fission-fusion social organization and ecology. The effects of provisioning on dolphin behaviour are addressed.

In: Behaviour

Abstract

Hormonal profiles of captive individuals show that bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops spp.) are seasonally polyoestrous, but little is known of reproductive behaviour among free-ranging bottlenose dolphins. In Shark Bay, Western Australia, we have documented for the first time patterns of female attractiveness that may correspond to multiple oestrous cycles. Male bottlenose dolphins in stable alliances of 2-3 individuals form temporary consortships with individual females. Consortships often are established and maintained by aggressive herding. Consortships are associated with reproduction and are a useful measure of a female's attractiveness. Following reproduction, females may become attractive to males when their surviving calf is about 2-2.5 years old or within 1-2 weeks of losing an infant. Individual females are attractive to males for variable periods extending over a number of months, both within and outside of the main breeding season. The duration of attractive periods is greater during breeding season months than during the preceding months. Males sometimes are attracted to females for periods exceeding the reported duration of rising estrogen levels during the follicular stage of the oestrous cycle. Males occasionally have consorted or otherwise been attracted to females in several unusual contexts, including late pregnancy, the first two weeks after parturition, and the day after the loss of a nursing infant. Individual females were consorted by up to 13 males during the season they conceived, supporting predictions of a promiscuous mating system in bottlenose dolphins. Thus, consorting is a strategy by males to monopolize females, but not a completely successful one. Multiple cycling by female bottlenose dolphins may be a strategy to avoid being monopolized by particular males. Given the duration and agonistic nature of many consortships, the benefits to females of such a costly strategy are not obvious. Multiple cycling may reduce the risk of infanticide by males or allow females to mate with preferred males after being monopolized by less desirable males.

In: Behaviour