Dolphins’ Animal Alliance Second Only to Humans

When it comes to forming social packs in the animal world, humans are only surpassed by dolphins, according to scientists from the University of Zurich and University of Massachusetts.

What to know:

  • Long-term, cooperative relationships between groups of male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins of Western Australia show strategic and multilevel associations that give them access to contested resources, and increases their reproductive success by allowing the males to spend more time with females.

  • Social structure among the dolphins shows there are first-order, life-long alliances of two to three males (similar to “best friends”) that develop when they are young; these males then cooperatively pursue individual females.

  • Second-order alliances are formed as needed to compete with other alliances over access to female dolphins, meaning each first order alliance can have multiple connections to other orders.

  • Social ties between alliances can lead to long-term benefits for the males because the amount of time they spend courting females is dependent upon how well-connected they are with other alliances.

  • Humans and dolphins appear to support the “social brain” hypothesis, which recognizes that they are the two animals with the largest brains relative to body size — and the brains potentially evolved to be so large to help keep track of our social interactions and networks.

This is a summary of the article “Strategic intergroup alliances increase access to a contested resource in male bottlenose dolphins” published by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 29, 2022. The full article can be found on

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