Vol 4, Issue 1, February 2017

Pectoral Fin Contact as a Mechanism for Social Bonding among Dolphins


Dudzinski, K. M., & Ribic, C. A. (2017). Pectoral fin contact as a mechanism for social bonding among dolphins. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 4(1), 30–48. https://doi.org/10.12966/abc.03.02.2017


Bottlenose dolphins are large-brained social mammals residing in a fission-fusion society with relationships that are established and maintained over decades. We examined a decade-long data set of inter-individual pectoral fin contact exchanges to better understand how dolphins share information via tactile contact. Sex and age are significant factors in pectoral fin contact within non-kin dolphin dyads. Adult females shared more pectoral fin contacts with other adult females, while younger females showed no pattern of contact. Males shared more pectoral fin contacts with other males as juveniles and as adults, but showed no difference in the number of touches versus rubs as pectoral fin contacts with other males. Whether in the role of initiator as rubber or initiator as rubbee, male dolphins again preferred other males. These results support the notion that dolphins, especially male dolphins, might use pectoral fin contact as one tool in their repertoire for social bonding to establish, maintain and manage their inter-individual relationships. Additionally, it is also likely that the exchange of pectoral fin contact is developed and refined as individuals age, mature socially, and establish their place within a fission-fusion society.