We investigated social structure and association patterns for a small population of Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, inhabiting the Aeolian Archipelago (southern Italy). Specifically we evaluate the role of sex and age composition, residency patterns and interaction with trammel nets on this social organization. Association data for 23 regularly sighted individuals were obtained from summer photoidentification surveys collected from 2005–2012. Using a combined cluster and social network analysis approach, we found associations between dolphins were hierarchically structured, where two mixed-sex social units were subdivided into smaller temporarily dynamic groups. We found non-random and long-term preferred associations in the population; however, the degree of social cohesion, residence pattern and interaction with trammel nets differed considerably between the two social units. Six of eight females occurred in the more resident social unit-1; in addition, social unit-1 individuals had significantly stronger associations, higher preferred associates, lived in larger groups and occurred less frequently with trammel nets. Nine of eleven males were clustered in social unit-2 and five of these males, interacting with trammel nets, formed small groups and preferred associations. We propose that female and male groups associate in the study area during the breeding season and that some males choose to interact with reproductive females forming a distinct but interrelated social unit. Other males may be associating in a larger fission-fusion network, which consists of dolphins that appear to temporarily join the network from the coastal population. We cannot exclude that some males specialized in trammel net foraging, suggesting that this foraging technique may favor a solitary lifestyle. Large group sizes and high degree of social cohesion for females could be an indication of greater protection and more efficiency in detecting, deterring or repelling anthropogenic pressures. Most likely dolphins’ social organization depends on a combination of socio-ecological, demographic and anthropogenic factors.
Blasi MF and Boitani L. Complex social structure of an endangered population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Aeolian Archipelago (Italy). PLoS One 9.12 (2014): e114849.