Dolphins form the largest cooperative communities in nature

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(ORDO NEWS) — Violent competition for females forces bottlenose dolphin males to form multi-level self-help groups – from small “friendly companies” to alliances that include dozens of individuals.

One of the secrets of human evolutionary success lies in our unique ability to cooperate. People form the largest unrelated communities, from friends to entire nations, for joint and mutually beneficial activities.

From this point of view, only bottlenose dolphins can compete with humans – animals with exceptionally developed social skills that even allow them to learn hunting techniques from each other, and not just from their parents.

A new study by ecologists from Florida International University has shown that male bottlenose dolphins form cooperative groups of several levels – from a small “company” to an entire alliance of many dozens of individuals.

Richard Connor and colleagues are studying bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay off the northwest coast of Australia.

For decades, scientists have been tracking the behavior of more than 200 male dolphins, recording with whom and how much time they spend.

The information accumulated over the years has shown that animals form multi-level cooperative communities that allow them to compete more successfully for females.

Lower-level groups consist of two to four individuals and may form alliances of up to 14 males to drive off competitors.

Those, in turn, form communities of the third level – unions that already include dozens of bottlenose dolphins.

According to scientists, these are the most numerous unrelated cooperative groups of all known in nature, not counting, of course, people.

In a new paper, Connor et al analyzed monitoring data from 121 male bottlenose dolphins from Shark Bay for 2001-2006.

Having built a “social network” that united them, scientists found that dolphins are connected to each other at different levels of the community hierarchy.

On average, each individual male can count 22 potential “allies”, and for some their number reaches fifty. And this cooperation really works.

Scientists have found that the more extensive the network of “allies” a particular dolphin has, the more time it spends among females, increasing its chances of reproductive success.


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