A dolphin´s life is sexy. How and with whom do they actually do “it”? Let´s talk about sex!
For a better understanding of this article, it´s advisable to not read this from a human´s point of view but to be open for new approaches.
The Power of Contact
Dolphins are a very tactile species. This means that they touch each other very often and plenty (especially with their flippers, which are highly sensitive as there are many nerve endings). These short contacts improve the group dynamic and tell the other dolphins: “Everything is all right, I´m still your friend. I am watching over you.”
Females with an agitated calf use the power of contact to calm down their child. You may know how much touching or hugging a friend can work wonders and calm down our nervous system.
To strengthen friendships and group dynamics dolphins also have sex. As it only lasts few seconds, they seem to balance this by doing “it” more often. At this point, the fun factor comes into play. Dolphins do not only have sex to procreate – but also simply because they have fun doing it! Don’t we know that from somewhere…
Practice Makes Perfect
Dolphins do it often and with changing partners – that is part of their social structure.
There are observations of mothers practicing the sexual act with their male calves, so when the time comes, the son is able to pass on his genes successfully. Masturbation (rubbing und stimulation themselves on the sea floor) as well as same-sex stimulations, practicing and experimenting can be observed as well. The mutual stimulations happen via touches by the snout and by clustered noises next to the genitals of the other dolphin. Dolphins have also tried this “buzzing”, as it is called as it involves a sequence of highly compressed sounds, with humans before…
Female dolphins become sexually mature at the age of around 9 years, while their male counterparty only reach this age at around 15 years. Although the sexual practicing and experimenting starts way before that. The sexual maturity changes from species to species. Female blue whales reach this age already at 5 or 6 years.
The females of the Atlantic spotted dolphins, for example, ovulate 1 to 3 times per year, which male dolphins probably taste by their urine.
There are only a few different species in the animal kingdom which make love stomach to stomach and dolphins are one of them.
There is also another known variation, where the male dolphin swims sideward and a bit behind the female to thrust his penis, which is quite flexible and long, into the genital slit of the female.
The penis of a dolphin is already quite big, so what is there to say about the “equipment” of the big whales! This year I succeeded to photograph such an impressive “piece” of a grey whale during our Vamos Baja California journey. These are called “Pink Floyd”.
This proves, that the male genitals are being used in same-sex fights for a fertile female. They are not being prudish, when the hormones are playing crazy… the males have a go at each other quite violently und fight each other to gain the favour of the fertile female.
S. Swartz, a grey whale researcher, reports: “In January and February we were able to observe a number of mating activities, some of them turning into huge “everyone with everyone”-groups. There were about 18 to 20 individuals, with pectoral fins and flukes flying in every direction and a lot of water splashing around.”
However, the males also often support each other in order to reach a certain goal. It is known that grey whale males help other males with the sexual act by supporting the female with their pectoral fin by lying on their side and propping her up.
As females mate with different males it is never know whose calf a new-born dolphin is. A father role, as we know it, does not exist in the dolphin society. However, male dolphins have been observed babysitting younger ones.
It’s All in the Mix
Once a calf is born, females are not at all interested anymore in the males – the calf is the centre of attention of the life of a female dolphin. But that does not mean that males will not try their luck once or twice.
There is also a known interspecific reproduction happening between spotted dolphins and bottle nose dolphins in the Bahamas, as the researcher Denise Herzing observed. The result are hybrids which are able to procreate. Bottle nose dolphins were paired with 13 different species, she says, however there were probably never any descendants.
Furthermore, it is also known that bottle nose dolphins have mated with false killer whales und that their offspring was propagable. This is also proven with the offspring of fin and blue whales.
The story of a male bottle nose dolphin, which kidnapped a female spotted dolphin to try and mate with her, is quite famous. The male escorted the female and pushed her away from the group and pressed her against the sea floor (the sand banks of the Bahamas are areas of shallow water).
The customs of conquest can be quite rough when males try to reach their goal. But sexual assault is not possible as the sexual act is a coordinated act. While it can often get rough during the foreplay, the female has to play along during the actual act as it would not work without her agreement. What a great arrangement nature created here!
A Highly-Involved Brain to Operate a Complex Life
Dolphin societies, their social structures and their customs are complex. They are not too dissimilar to ours and there is pretty much nothing, that is not possible. The complexity of the relationships with each other in the dolphin society is breath-taking and it shows clearly why they need such a big and highly-developed brain.
We were often able to watch the amorous play of the dolphins from our boat off the coast of La Gomera. There is hardly any documented material of the love life of the big whales – they do it unwatched in the depth of the wide blue oceans… as you see, the Big Blue offers quite enough privacy.