The whistles of the dolphins join them in the distance


Considered one of the most intelligent animals, dolphins maintain complex social networks, talk to each other and even call each other by their “name”. The males of bottle nose They use physical contact, such as gentle petting, to strengthen the bond with members of the group with whom they have strong ties.

However, to address those who are less close, they use whistles. The new findings, published in “Current Biology”, show how these calls, which require less time and effort, can be essential for uniting large groups. An international team of scientists used nine years of behavioral and acoustic data from a population of dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, to assess how the males strengthened and maintained their precious alliances.

“Many animals, including humans, use tactile contact to reinforce and reaffirm important relationships. But as the number of close social relationships increases, the demands on the time and space available for maintaining relationships through physical contact also increase.Explain emma chereskinof the Faculty of Biological Sciences. “Male bottlenose dolphins form strategic alliances at different levels, and we wanted to know how they maintain multi-alliance relationships in large groups”he specifies.

By following pods of dolphins and documenting their physical and acoustic behavior, the research team was able to identify the different ways the males bonded to each other. “We found that within basic dolphin alliances, strongly bonded allies engaged in more affiliative contact behaviors, such as stroking and rubbing, while weakly bonded allies engaged in more sibilant exchanges. It illustrates that these weaker but still essential social relationships can be maintained with vocal exchanges.”says Stephanie King, also from Bristol.

The social bond of dolphins

In the social bonding hypothesis, British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar postulated that vocalizations and language evolved as a form of “vocal grooming” to replace physical grooming, as increasingly groups adults placed impossible demands on the environment in terms of the time available for physical contact behaviors. .

However, tests of this hypothesis in non-human primates suggest that vocal exchanges occur between individuals with stronger bonds who engage in higher rates of grooming, and thus provide no evidence for physical replacement of bonds. .

“Our findings provide new evidence that vocal exchanges can fulfill a join function Chereskin says, but more importantly, and consistent with the social bonding hypothesis, vocal exchanges may function as a replacement for physical bonding, allowing allied male dolphins to bond remotely.”. In his opinion, “This evidence in support of the social bond hypothesis outside the primate lineage raises exciting new questions about the origins and evolution of language across taxa”.

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