Bringing Up Baby
Baby dolphins are born after a 12 month gestation, and have to hit the water running! From birth, they need to be able to swim immediately, keeping up with mom and the pod. Calves stay super close to mom, relying on them for the first 3-5 years for food, and to learn everything they need to know to be a good dolphin!
What happens if mom and calf are sadly separated? Amazingly, there is evidence of group care! Researchers in the Bahamas recently observed a little female calf who seemed to be cared for by a different adult every time they saw her. Even the male adults in the pod took a turn with baby. She was always in the infant position, right under her caretaker of the day, as the group seemed to pool together to help bring up baby!
We all know that dolphins are highly social animals, living in pods. Let’s take a look at what researchers have found about the structure of their society. It looks like females in particular tend to associate based on their life stages – for example pregnant females hang out with other pregnant females, females with calves tend to group together, and teenage dolphins form their own cliques. They also appear to prefer to spend time with close family members – older female calves hang out with mom to help babysit little brother or sister.
Dolphins society is complex, with members forming alliances, friendships and relationships that researchers are still trying to understand! It’s a lot harder when you can’t interview your research subject!