Dolphin Moms Do Best With Help From Female Friends

Social support helps moms do a better job, both in the ocean and out.


Being a mom is hard work, as any mom can tell you. No doubt that's why dolphins rely on their female friends to improve their chances of producing healthy, happy baby dolphins.

Dolphins are social and intelligent, just like humans; they live in extended families and maintain long-term friendships. Now scientists report that female dolphins are more successful at reproduction if they had female friends or relatives who were good at calving, too.

Earlier studies on what made it more likely that animals would reproduce and successfully rear their young were contradictory. Some said that having good genes was key; strong, fit parents would produce strong, fit offspring. Others said social support, such as aunts, uncles, or unrelated helpers, were key.

[Sisters Bring Happiness]

This new study, from researchers who have studied the bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, in Western Australia, for 25 years, said that both good genes and social ties are important. The finding, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first time that scientists have tried to gauge the value of genes and social ties in animals living in the natural world.

The scientists say they don't know why dolphin moms with supportive girlfriends were more successful mothers. But they believe the girlfriends may help protect pregnant dolphins and new moms from shark attacks.

I didn't have to deal with shark attacks as a new mom, but I remember all too well the exhaustion and confusion of my first months of motherhood. I couldn't have made it through without the support and sympathy of female friends, and of other new moms I connected with through moms' groups. In today's society, women often give birth far away from where their mothers and grandmothers live; surely female friends help fill that void. The explosion of online mom sites like the BlogHer network, CafeMom, and Mocha Moms, not to mention the thousands of independent mom bloggers, show how pregnant women and new mothers have used technology to build supportive groups, even if the group members are miles – or continents—away.

Dolphins don't have mommy blogs, but who knows what good dolphin mom advice they are passing along as they're clicking away under the waves? I, for one, am comforted to know that it's not just human moms who do better with a little help from their friends.