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The bottlenose dolphin community of Doubtful Sound features a large proportion of long-lasting associations

Can geographic isolation explain this unique trait?

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More than 12 studies of different bottlenose dolphin populations, spanning from tropical to cold temperate waters, have shown that the species typically lives in societies in which relationships among individuals are predominantly fluid. In all cases dolphins lived in small groups characterised by fluid and dynamic interactions and some degree of dispersal from the natal group by both sexes. We describe a small, closed population of bottlenose dolphins living at the southern extreme of the species' range. Individuals live in large, mixed-sex groups in which no permanent emigration/immigration has been observed over the past 7 years. All members within the community are relatively closely associated (average half-weight index>0.4). Both male–male and female–female networks of preferred associates are present, as are long-lasting associations across sexes. The community structure is temporally stable, compared to other bottlenose dolphin populations, and constant companionship seems to be prevalent in the temporal association pattern. Such high degrees of stability are unprecedented in studies of bottlenose dolphins and may be related to the ecological constraints of Doubtful Sound. Fjords are low-productivity systems in which survival may easily require a greater level of co-operation, and hence group stability. These conditions are also present in other cetacean populations forming stable groups. We therefore hypothesise that ecological constraints are important factors shaping social interactions within cetacean societies.

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We would like to thank David Watts, Peter Corkeron, Richard C. Connor, Christoph Richter, Susan M. Lusseau and three anonymous referees who provided valuable comments and critiques at various stages of this study. We are indebted to Hal Whitehead for the development of his program SOCPROG, which eased the analysis of individual association data. This long-term study would not have been possible without the support of many institutions and companies. We would like to thank Fiordland Travel Ltd., Natural History New Zealand Limited, Geissendoerfer Film- und Fernsehgesellschaft, New Zealand Department of Conservation, the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust, the University of Otago and the University of Otago Bridging Grant scheme for their financial and technical support. We would also like to thank Frank Wells, Paul Norris and Paul Stewart for their continuous help and moral support in the field. Maps from Fig. 1 were created using GMT from KK+W digital cartography (

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Correspondence to David Lusseau.

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Communicated by D. Watts

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Lusseau, D., Schneider, K., Boisseau, O.J. et al. The bottlenose dolphin community of Doubtful Sound features a large proportion of long-lasting associations. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 54, 396–405 (2003).

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