Male bottlenose dolphins hold grudges, researchers find

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Dolphins harbor grudges: male bottlenose dolphins respond strongly to calls from ‘allies’ who have come to the rescue in the past – but often ignore those who did not help, researchers find

  • Bristol University researchers studied the complex ‘alliance network’ among dolphins
  • The animals work together to hunt or protect themselves from predators and form social concepts of ‘team membership’
  • The study is published in the journal Nature Communications

Dolphins seem to be smiling permanently … but dark emotions seem to be bubbling beneath the surface.

After studying ‘alliance networks’ between male bottlenose dolphins living in Shark Bay, Western Australia, marine researchers now think the mammals may hold a grudge.

A team from Bristol University found that individual dolphins responded strongly to calls from ‘allies’ who had come to their aid in the past.

But they were more likely to ignore those who had not helped before, even if they had seemed friendly.

Dolphins seem to be smiling permanently ... but dark emotions seem to be bubbling beneath the surface.  After studying 'alliance networks' between male bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, marine researchers now think the mammals may hold a grudge

Dolphins seem to be smiling permanently … but dark emotions seem to be bubbling beneath the surface. After studying ‘alliance networks’ between male bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, marine researchers now think the mammals may hold a grudge

Dolphins team up to hunt or protect themselves from predators and form social concepts of “ team membership, ” the study argued in Nature Communications.

Dr. Stephanie King said, “Social animals may have sophisticated ways of classifying relationships with members of the same species.

‘In our own society, we use social knowledge to divide individuals into meaningful groups, such as sports teams and political allies.

“Bottlenose dolphins are the most complex alliances outside of humans, and we wanted to know how they classify these relationships.”

The study also found that dolphins collaborate with others who have not helped them directly, but dolphins they know, suggesting that the animals remember who they will and will not help.

The animals, the study points out, work together for a number of reasons, including working together to attack or protect themselves from opposing groups.

Dolphins can recognize each other's calls because they develop distinctive whistles that remain the same throughout their lives [Stock image]

Dolphins can recognize each other’s calls because they develop distinctive whistles that remain the same throughout their lives [Stock image]

Dolphins can recognize each other’s calls because they develop distinctive whistles that remain the same throughout their lives.

While dolphins choose close alliances and opt for short-term goals, they draw on a larger pool of contacts to build these work teams.

Sometimes these secondary groups also call on each other for support, forming an even larger network.

What this shows, the researchers said, is that these dolphins form social concepts of “ team membership ” – categorizing allies according to a shared history of collaboration.

Dr. King said, “Such concepts were developed through experience and likely played a role in the cooperative behavior of early humans.

“Our results show that collaborative concepts are not unique to humans, but also exist in other animal associations with extensive collaboration between non-relatives.”

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