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Drama of dolphins: Study shows complex social life of aquatic animals

The nearly-human level intelligence of dolphins is well-documented, but new research shows the level of social complexity compares to humans as well, The Daily Mail reports. Recent studies show that male dolphins form Mafia-like alliances among themselves, resorting to forceful mounting of other males and other violent behavior to get their way.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, looked at more than 120 adult dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia over five years. The researchers focused on male dolphins, finding that they organized themselves into three different types of social groups.

In "first-order alliances," two or three males work together to herd a female for mating. Most males are also members of "second-order alliances," in which they cooperate to protect their females from other groups. "Third-order alliances" occur when members of a second-order alliance form a relationship with a male from another group. Females did not seem to form any such relationships.

"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," Richard Connor, co-author of the study and biology professor who has studied these dolphins for more than 20 years,told Discovery News. "I'm glad I'm not a dolphin."
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