Infanticide in the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis)
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- Zheng, R., Karczmarski, L., Lin, W. et al. J Ethol (2016) 34: 299. doi:10.1007/s10164-016-0475-7
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Infanticide has been observed in several mammalian taxa and studied in considerable detail in carnivores and primates. Although reported previously in cetaceans, known cases are few and their socio-behavioral context remains poorly understood. We report here on three cases of social coercion directed at mother-neonate pairs of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in the Pearl River Estuary, southeast China. Two of these cases resulted in confirmed infanticide. To aid the interpretation of our field observations, we refer to the results of necropsies of calf carcasses stranded and recovered in our research area between 2003 and 2012, which indicate that in several cases the main cause of death of stranded calves was asphyxia resulting from blunt-force trauma. This is consistent with the aggressive behaviors seen during our field observations. We conclude that male infanticide is the most plausible interpretation of the observed behaviors, never previously reported for the genus Sousa, while the calf-directed aggression is likely a result of socio-sexual harassment by males as part of their reproductive strategy.