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Dolphins Form Complicated Social Networks

Dolphins at sunset

Image credit: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Image shows dolphins swimming at sunset

Although dolphins they might be instagramming their delicious food or watching each other’s whereabouts on Twitter, they are surely capable of establishing quite complicated social networks.

Based on the study of the scientists at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at FloridaAtlanticUniversity, it is discovered that bottlenose dolphins living in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) establish sort of ‘communities’ in separated regions. Actually, these dolphins could not only choose their amicable company, but also avoid hanging out with the ones they dislike.

Having been released from the recent edition of in the journal Marine Mammal Science, the study focused on observations of dolphins in the IRL for the period of six and a half years by application of the large-scaled photo-ID surveys. Using such non-invasive technique, scientists were capable of recognition of some 200 individual dolphins from the different markings on their dorsal fins.

Located on Florida’s east coast, The IRL is an estuary with length of 250 kilometers-long. It is a distinguishing habitat in comparison of those conventionally inhabited by other similar marine mammals owing to its linear shape, which enable the dolphins to go following a north-south axis. In 1990, The IRL was designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyas an “Estuary of National Significance,” because it was thought to be one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America.

As Elizabeth Murdoch Titcomb, a research biologist at HBOI, said, their study had resulted in one unique discovery that the physical dimensions of the habitat as the long and narrow lagoon system had great impact on the spatial and temporal dynamics of dolphin association patterns.

It is the suggestion from Titcomb’s that the habitat shape could affect the dolphins in regard to their association and ranging patterns and thus their community structure.

In the opinion of Titcomb, communities residing in the narrowest stretches of the Indian River Lagoon should have the most complex social networks, which are quite similar to people from the small towns where they have little interaction with other residents. In addition, the dolphins clustered into six distinct social communities in the IRL, forming the different patterns of social organization and dynamics from one group to another.

According to the scientists, there are important implications, if the distinct substructure within a population is ignored and instead handled in the same way. In the conclusion, the research emphasized that the better understanding of the social affiliations among dolphins together with identifying their genetic structure, would be a very practical tool when scientists are intended to model the spread of disease and behavioral responses throughout a population.

Journal reference: Titcomb, Elizabeth Murdoch, et al. “Social communities and spatiotemporal dynamics of association patterns in estuarine bottlenose dolphins.” Marine Mammal Science (2015).

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