Inter-group alliance dynamics in Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus)

Whitney R. Friedman, Michael Krützen, Stephanie King, Simon J. Allen, Livia Gerber, Samuel Wittwer, Richard C. Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The social intelligence hypothesis holds that complex social relationships are the major selective force underlying the evolution of large brain size and intelligence. Complex social relationships are exemplified by coalitions and alliances that are mediated by affiliative behavior, resulting in differentiated but shifting relationships. Male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, form three alliance levels or ‘orders’, primarily among non-relatives. Strategic alliance formation has been documented within both first- and second-order alliances and between second-order alliances (‘third-order alliances’), revealing that the formation of strategic inter-group alliances is not limited to humans. Here we conducted a fine-scale study on 22 adult males over a 6-year period to determine if third-order alliance relationships are differentiated, and mediated by affiliative interactions. We found third-order alliance relationships were strongly differentiated, with key individuals playing a disproportionate role in maintaining alliances. Nonetheless, affiliative interactions occurred broadly between third-order allies, indicating males maintain bonds with third-order allies of varying strength. We also documented a shift in relationships and formation of a new third-order alliance. These findings further our understanding of dolphin alliance dynamics and provide evidence that strategic alliance formation is found in all three alliance levels, a phenomenon with no peer among non-human animals.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Cognition
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


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