Dolphins Lead 'Complicated' Social Lives

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In what can only be described as "West Side Story" meets "Flipper," scientists say they've discovered that male bottlenose dolphins break out into gangs to protect their females.

The researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, studied more than 120 adult dolphins, with a focus on the males, during a five-year period in Shark Bay, western Australia.

Their findings were published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

Richard Connor, a co-author and biology professor who has studied these particular dolphins for more than 20 years, said male dolphins' social lives were intense.

"It seems there is constant drama. I have often thought, as I watched their complicated alliance relationships, that their social lives would be mentally and physically exhausting," he told Discovery News. "I'm glad I'm not a dolphin."

Researchers found that the dolphins lived in an open society where allies were created with other dolphin groups and group members switched sides to battle against larger, tougher challengers.

The dolphins also organized themselves into three different kinds of groups that could overlap.

While one group - usually in pairs or threes - was tasked with gathering fertile females during mating season, another made up of four to 14 defended against attacks and sought to steal other groups' females.

The third group maintained "friendly relations" with all dolphin groups and helped out various teams when additional forces were needed.

Discovery News contributed to this article.