According to a new study conducted by researchers at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, dolphins form complex social networks and have friends and associates much like humans.
All dolphins species are well-known as social animals, but a team of researchers at HBOI decided to methodically investigate the interactions between bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon area of Florida to try and learn more about dolphin socializing.
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The HBOI study was published in the academic journal Marine Mammal Science earlier this month. The researchers discovered that much like humans, dolphins have other dolphins they like and associate with and others they avoid. The research also highlighted that IRL dolphins frequently formed into groups of animals, or “communities,” that lived in specific areas along the north-south axis of the lagoon system.
The study involved photo-ID surveys conducted throughout the IRL over a six- and-a-half year period. Through this, the researchers could identify the the association patterns as well as movements and habitat preferences of more than 200 individual dolphins.
The research offers a unique glimpse into dolphin networking and socialization, and provides important insights regarding how dolphins organize themselves, who they interact with, as well as when and where. This study is being hailed as giving resource managers the beginnings of a roadmap to understand how dolphin populations perceive and use their environment. Equally important, scientists are finding out how social networks influence information transfer, breeding behavior and disease transmission in dolphins
Of note, the IRL is a 156-mile long estuary on Florida’s eastern coast. The U.S. EPA designated the IRL as an “Estuary of National Significance” to help preserve one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America back in 1990.
HBOI academics have been undertaking photo identification studies of bottlenose dolphins on the IRL since 1996, managing to identify over 1,700 individual dolphins. One critical finding of the study is identification of a distinct IRL type now breeding its third generation, as well as important insights into breeding and social behaviors.