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Multi-modal sexual displays in Australian humpback dolphins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number13644
Number of pages8
JournalScientific Reports
Early online date20 Oct 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 2 Oct 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 20 Oct 2017
DatePublished (current) - 20 Oct 2017


Sexual displays enriched by object carrying serve to increase individual male fitness, yet are uncommon phenomena in the animal kingdom. While they have been documented in a variety of taxa, primarily birds, they are rare outside non-human mammals. Here, we document marine sponge presenting associated with visual and acoustic posturing found in several, geographically widespread populations of Australian humpback dolphins (Sousa sahulensis) over ten years of observation. Only adult males presented marine sponges, typically doing so in the presence of sexually mature females, although social groups predominantly consisted of mixed age and sex classes. Male humpback dolphins appear to be using sponges for signalling purposes in multi-modal sexual displays. Further, based on limited behavioural and genetic data, we hypothesise that pairs of adult male Sousa form at least temporary coalitions or alliances. The use of objects in sexual displays by non-human mammals is rare and, moreover, cooperation between males in the pursuit of an indivisible resource is an evolutionary hurdle relatively few species have overcome. These findings suggest a hitherto unrecognised level of social complexity in humpback dolphins. © 2017 The Author(s).

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    Rights statement: This is the final published version of the article (version of record). It first appeared online via Springer Nature at DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-13898-9. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

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    Licence: CC BY


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