In the summer of 2013, dolphin researcher Nicole Danaher-Garcia spotted something rare and remarkable in the animal world. As she stood on top of the bridge of a sport fishing yacht near Bimini in the Bahamas, she spied 10 adult Atlantic spotted dolphins she had never seen before—speeding into the waters of another group of dolphins.
Most mammals attack intruders, but war wasn’t on the menu that day. Instead, the newcomers—eventually 46 in all—joined up with the resident dolphins, some 120 in number. Today, the two groups of Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) have partially integrated, diving and swimming together, forming fast friendships, and likely even mating.
It’s a “striking” display of tranquility between animals scientists usually consider rivals, says Richard Wrangham, a primatologist at Harvard University who was not involved with the study. Most mammals fight to protect mates and other resources if they encounter strangers entering their territory, he notes. This research, he says, may ultimately lead to a better understanding of the evolution of peacefulness.
Danaher-Garcia, a behavioral ecologist, and her colleagues at the Dolphin Communication Project observed the two groups of dolphins in Bimini for 5 years, carrying out nearly 300 surveys. At first, the scientists only saw one small group of mixed Bimini and newcomer dolphins. But the next year, the scientists spotted a larger group of males and females of all ages from both communities mixing without “any signs of aggression,” she says. The dolphins continued their friendly behaviors through 2018, leading the team to suspect the two groups were merging. [Continue reading…]