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Spatial segregation and interspecific killing of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

Abstract

We described the spatial segregation of two species of cetaceans, the common dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin. We also document the first direct observation of interspecific killing of a common dolphin by bottlenose dolphins and of interspecific necrophilia in cetaceans. The study was conducted from 2014 to 2019 in the Ría de Arousa (Northwest Spain). This study highlights that both species use this area as a foraging ground, although they show different patterns of occurrence (bottlenose dolphins were always observed in the ria and common dolphins were mostly observed outside). During the study period, bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins were only observed on five occasions at the same time and in the same area, including three occasions which led to the displacement of the common dolphin(s), and one lethal interaction. In this event, several bottlenose dolphins, including adults and calves, and males and females, aggressively herded, chased, and assaulted a common dolphin. After approximatively 10 min, the common dolphin corpse appeared floating at the surface, and several adult male bottlenose dolphins repeatedly pushed the body underneath the water surface and an (attempted) copulation was witnessed. We suggest that the common dolphin could have been killed for competition for food resources or practice for infanticide, and sexual arousal might have been triggered by expression of dominance. Further information about the occurrence of such behaviors, and the outcomes through specific studies on fitness would be crucial to further understand the implication of such events.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Oriol Giralt Paradell, Sara de Almeida Simoes, Olga Mosca, Victoria Hope, Niki Karagouni, and BDRI volunteers for their contribution to support field and laboratory work. Thanks also to Francisco Redondo and his crew for providing the videos and to Olga Mosca for reviewing the English grammar of the manuscript. We also thank the editor Dr. Ana M. Faria and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments that helped improve the manuscript. Data collection complies with the current laws of Spain, the country in which it was performed. This research was conducted under various research permits, issued by the sub-directorate general for the protection of the sea in the Spanish ministry for ecological transition and demographic challenge.

Funding

This research is part of a long-term study supported by funding from the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute (www.thebdri.com).

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Séverine Methion and Bruno Díaz López designed the study and collected the data in the field. Séverine Methion analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript with significant input from Bruno Díaz López. Séverine Methion and Bruno Díaz López read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Séverine Methion.

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Supplementary file1 Online Resources Video of the interspecific killing event of a common dolphin by bottlenose dolphins. (MP4 100391 KB)

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Methion, S., Díaz López, B. Spatial segregation and interspecific killing of common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) by bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). acta ethol 24, 95–106 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10211-021-00363-0

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Keywords

  • Interspecific interaction
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Interspecific killing
  • Interference competition
  • Necrophilia
  • Cetaceans