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Open Access Publications from the University of California

All Mothers are Not the Same: Maternal Styles in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)


A dolphin calf’s relationship with its mother is crucial for its survival and may be affected by the mother’s preferred mode of interacting with her calf. Mothers from a variety of species exhibit individual differences and stable maternal styles. However, little is known about individual differences in the maternal behaviors of dolphins. We investigated the possibility of maternal styles in dolphins by identifying specific maternal care behaviors in 7 dolphin mothers at two facilities during the first year of each calf’s life. The mothers exhibited different patterns of behavior including proximity maintenance, discipline, and initiation of separations and reunions with calves. These patterns of maternal behaviors suggest that dolphin mothers display a range of maternal styles that appear to be differentiated by level of maternal control. Moreover, a mother may also modify her individual style as her calf matures and as the social context changes.

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