Researchers from Murdoch University have discovered that male bottlenose dolphins in western Australia are engaging in sexual behavior with members of the same sex.
The same-sex romps were observed in dolphins living in the waters outside the coastal city of Mandurah, south of Perth, in Western Australia. The researchers focused on a pod that contains 15 male dolphins, which were observed after the peak of the mating season was over.
“These dolphins, all but three of them juveniles, organised themselves in four sub-groups in which they were observed engaging in socio-sexual behaviour that included mounting and genital contact between individuals,” researcher Krista Nicholson told the Mandurah Mail. “The subgroups joined, frequently forming a large group and then split again in different group compositions."
Nicholson and her colleagues believe that homosexual behavior could be key to the social organizations of the species' males. Interactions between the dolphins, both sexual and not, help form bonds and establish dominance. This had not been observed before in Mandurah, but it is a common sight in other parts of Australia.
“In Shark Bay [also in Western Australia], where male dolphins form life-long alliances, socio-sexual interactions between males are more common than between females or between the sexes. Apart from homosexual behaviour, males, unlike females, in Shark Bay have also been recorded to perform synchronous displays,” Nicholson added.
The socio-sexual behavior could also be important for protection, safety in numbers, or for better reproductive chances as a larger group could be able to more easily locate females. It might be an unusual “wingman” approach but it seems to work for bottlenosed dolphins.
This particular study is part of the Mandurah Dolphin Research Project, which hopes to understand the population size, social structures, and the habits of dolphins along the Mandurah coast. This will inform how we can best manage and protect these fascinating animals.
The bottlenose dolphins are at risk from the many new constructions along the coast that lead to the detriment of their habitat as well as an increase in boat traffic and pollution along the coast.
The scientists from Murdoch University have been studying dolphin populations in nearby areas like Perth and Bunbury and were excited to observe the behavior that had been recorded in other places repeated in a new location and pod.
This, of course, isn't the first time homosexual behavior has been observed in animals. Check out the video below for the increasingly wide range of creatures great and small that we have observed engaging in same-sex behavior.
[H/T: Mandurah Mail]