June 21, 2024

Contact Exchanges in Bottlenose Dolphin Mother–Calf Pairs


Savanna M. Duda, Manon Themelin, Amy C. Hirons, and Kathleen M. Dudzinski


Document: Article

Abstract: The relationship between a dolphin mother and her calf has been well studied, but details regarding tactile exchanges within these dyads are limited. Contacts between five adult female bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and their calves, with data from three pairs analyzed statistically, were examined from video collected in October 2017, 2018, 2019, and in January 2018. Of 289 contact events, calves initiated 65.7% (n = 190), of which 82.6% (n = 157) were affiliative; 77.8% (n = 77) of mother-initiated contacts were categorized similarly. Thus, the overall trend for mother–calf contacts was affiliative. Mothers initiated contact with the dorsal fin less often (n = 3), while calves initiated with their dorsal fin more often (n = 40), especially one-year-old (C1) calves (n = 33). The body was used to initiate contact more by three-year-old (C3) calves (n = 47) and less by C1 calves (n = 22). Both results are likely an artifact of the infant position used by calves at different developmental stages. Only two-year-old (C2) calves initiated agonistic contact with their rostrum (n = 4); 75% of these contacts were initiated by one male calf. Mothers used the body to initiate contact with most calf ages, though contact by pectoral fin occurred more often than expected with their C2 calves (n = 11). Since 72.7% of these contacts came from one mother, a specific maternal style may be present. Only one mother used her rostrum with her C3 calf to initiate agonistic contacts; all others used the fluke. Several variables, including individual preference, calf sex, and maternal experience, may explain some of the contact patterns, but a larger sample size is needed to illustrate potential patterns among pairs. Still, these results support the notion that mother–calf dyads share more affiliative than agonistic contacts, expanding our knowledge on the tactile relationships of mother–calf pairs.

Key Words: behavior, mother–calf dyads, tactile contacts, bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1578/AM.50.1.2024.19

Page Numbers: 19-29

Info Category: