It turns out, dolphins become friends with other dolphins when they are interested in the same thing. Just like humans, dolphins form close relationships by sharing similar interests. This is something that has now been proven by a group of international researchers. Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the new findings give us a glimpse into the complex social world of dolphins.

Dolphins have long been admired and revered, all the way back to ancient Greece. Back then, dolphins were admired and respected, and even worshiped. They were seen as intelligent and benevolent creatures of the sea. This new research is not the first to show us just how intelligent and social dolphins are. A little over a decade ago, it was discovered that dolphins possess a level of meta-cognition. When encountering difficult social situations amongst themselves, they seek out diplomatic resolutions.

dolphins swimming together

In the World Heritage area known as Shark Bay off the western coast of Australia, bottlenose dolphins have been seen using marine sponges as tools to get food. This clearly-learned strategy was passed down over generations of dolphins, helping them get food. The use of tools is something seen among female dolphins. This new research looked at male dolphins in particular.

Researchers used genetic data, as well as photographs of dolphins in groups. They looked at 124 male dolphins while it was winter in Shark Bay, across 9 years (2007-2015). Additionally, 37 separate male dolphins were studied. In this group, 13 of them used marine sponges to find food, while 24 did not.

What the Study Found

What researchers noticed was that the males using sponges spent more time interacting with other male dolphins than those who did not use sponges. This more friendly behavior showed them cozying up to one another because they were interested in the same thing. Perhaps they were also able to help each other out while using the sponges to find food.

The co-author of the study, Dr. Simon Allen, explained that it takes a great time of time to forage for food using sponges. Also, it’s essentially a one-dolphin activity. This is why it was long thought that there was no social interactions among male foragers or the creation of friendships. However, Dr. Allen noted that the study suggests that, as with female dolphins and humans, males form friendships based on what they’re both interested in.

Thanks to this new study, we have greater insight into the complex social system that dolphins have, especially among those who use tools.

The lead author of the study at the University of Zurich, Manuela Bizzozzero, remarked that the male dolphins showed they have an extensive social system that relied on creating alliances. The strong bonds the male dolphins create have the ability to literally last decades. In fact, these friendships are essential to each one of their success when it comes to making.

This study was possible thanks to grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation in Australia, and the W.V. Scott Foundation, as well as the A.H. Schultz Stiftung.

Dolphins: Humans of the Sea?

What animal is the most intelligent on this planet after humans? Scientists are now saying that it’s dolphins. The size of their brains in relation to their bodies is even larger than our cousin, the chimpanzee. Behavioral studies have led some scientists to begin suggesting dolphins be treated as ‘non-human persons‘ and be given special protection.

Just to give one example of why they deserve this special status, they actually have self-awareness! That’s right. When looking at a mirror, they realize they are looking at themselves. This is something only a handful of other species have demonstrated: apes, pigs, and elephants.

Some nations are beginning to take these observations seriously, codifying them into law. For instance, India has recently declared that dolphins are non-human persons and will be given special protections and rights. An official from the Ministry of Environment and Forests stated that dolphins should have rights of their own and that it is simply unacceptable to place dolphins into captivity in places like entertainment venues.

Beyond dolphins, other cetaceans have demonstrated that they, too, should have rights and be protected. There is a strong argument for orcas, dolphins, and whales to all be ensured they will not be hunted, used for entertainment, or other degrading circumstances.

If you want to learn more about how to protect dolphins and cetaceans of all kinds, go here.