Male Dolphins Give Gifts, Have Wingmen To Attract Potential Mates


Dolphins have complex mating rituals that include singing and jumping in the air. Now, researchers of a new study revealed that just like humans, the cetaceans may also be giving gifts to attract a sexual partner.

Attracting Mates In The Animal Kingdom

In the animal kingdom, males often display their fitness to attract potential mates. They build elaborate nests, display bright feathers, croak loudly, and fight other males. Dolphins appear to show an indirect way of proving strength with gift-giving, exhibiting the behavior only in the presence of sexually mature females. Displays that are accompanied by objects or gifts rarely occur in the animal kingdom.

Researchers captured footage of this behavior in humpback male dolphins off the coast of Western Australia. The animals were observed presenting females with large marine sponges in what appeared to be an effort to woo a potential mate.

Marine Sponges As Gift For Potential Mate

Scientists who have been studying dolphins in the region first spotted the behavior when a male dived down to the seafloor and returned with a large marine sponge on its beak, which it pushed toward a female.

Simon Allen, from the University of Western Australia School of Biological Sciences, said that while dolphins have long been known to be intelligent, the observation hints of a high level of social complexity in humpback dolphins.

Dolphins are hierarchical species, and the sponge gathering could be a means for the males of the species to reinforce their place within the social order and, consequently, their desirability as potential mates.

"The use of objects in sexual displays by non-human mammals is rare and, moreover, cooperation between males in the pursuit of an indivisible resource is an evolutionary hurdle relatively few species have overcome," Allen and colleagues wrote in their study. "These findings suggest a hitherto unrecognised level of social complexity in humpback dolphins."

Wingman Relationships In Dolphins

The marine mammals were also observed teaming up with "wingmen" to attract sexual partners. Researchers said that some of the large male dolphins appeared to work together in pairs to attract a sexual partner.

"The formation of alliances between adult males for the purposes of coercing females is uncommon, since mating success cannot be shared," said study coauthor Stephanie King. "This is a new finding for this species, and presents an exciting avenue for future research."

The observations were reported in a study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Oct. 20.

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