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Supportive behavior of free-ranging Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) toward dead neonates, with data on perinatal mortality


This study adds the Atlantic spotted dolphin Stenella frontalis to the list of species displaying nurturant behavior as a response to perinatal mortality. It is based on two in situ behavioral observations off Madeira Island (Portugal) (but with only one continuing uninterrupted). Additionally, postmortem exams were carried out on four fresh neonate carcasses, two from the previous events and two from distinct events where carcasses were found floating with no individuals in the vicinity. The in situ observations show that adult Atlantic spotted dolphins try to support their dead calves at surface, either involving a single individual (presumably the mother) or several individuals. The highly fresh condition of the carcasses suggests that the adults abandon them after a short period of time (hours). The postmortem exams suggest that the four neonates died from natural causes, and not from anthropogenic causes, predation, or other intra- or interspecific behavioral interaction as described in some cetacean populations. Accurate lengths at birth are also provided, which are scarce in literature for this species.

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Thanks to the crew members João Viveiros and Hugo Vieira, to the skipper Miguel Fernandes from the tourist boat “Sea Born”, to the veterinary Isabel Quaresma, to the Machico Town Hall and EU programs FEDER/INTERREG III-B for funding the MACETUS (MAC/4.2/M10) and EMECETUS (05/MAC/4.2/M10) projects, and to two anonymous reviewers for valuable suggestions.

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Correspondence to F. Alves.

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Alves, F., Nicolau, C., Dinis, A. et al. Supportive behavior of free-ranging Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) toward dead neonates, with data on perinatal mortality. acta ethol 18, 301–304 (2015).

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  • Birth lengths
  • Cetacea
  • Madeira
  • Nurturant behavior
  • Postmortem exams