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They’re Hanging Out, Sharing Food, Having Sex: They’re Dolphins

By LIDA TUNESI

In a small boat off the southwest coast of Mexico, Ph.D. candidate Eric Angel Ramos (Hunter College, The Graduate Center) watched a group of rough-toothed dolphins swimming near the surface. The dolphins were doing something not often seen—sharing their food. And, as the Daily Mail put it, at the same time, they were “getting frisky.”

Ramos and colleagues from Florida and Mexico documented the food sharing and sexual behavior they witnessed in a paper published in Marine Mammal Science.

Plenty of bird, mammal, and insect species share food, but scientists haven’t seen cetaceans (a group that includes dolphins, whales, porpoises, and narwhals) do it very often. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The researchers saw the dolphins sharing food on two occasions in the Bay of Potosi while during surveys for Whales of Guerrero, a marine research and conservation organization in Mexico. The first time, they it saw for themselves from a boat, and the other instance was recorded by drone.

On both occasions, a handful of dolphins out of a larger group shared a fish amongst themselves. One dolphin would tear off a chunk, then drop the fish and let the next dolphin pick it up. In the drone footage, Ramos and colleagues also saw two of the dolphins, dubbed Moby and Pickles, being sexually active with another dolphin, named Fuji. Dolphins are highly social, the researchers told the Daily Mail, and it’s pretty normal for them to have sex between meals or to solve conflicts.

The paper explains that dolphins are also known to work together to corral and hunt schools of smaller fish, which lets everyone eat at the same time. Sharing, then, could be a technique they use to make sure everyone gets fed when the prey is bigger.

These sightings should inspire scientists to do more research on food-sharing among rough-toothed dolphins, the authors say, to understand just how common it is and to get insights into their social structures in general.