To score a lady, male dolphins are said to form alliances – or “bromances” – to help one another ensure their reproductive success. They do so by playing "wingman" to their fellow pod-mates, sequestering fertile females in a cetaceous courtship of sorts.
The science investigating these unique dude dynamics goes back decades.
Snopes spoke with Dara Orbach, a marine biology professor at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, who studies animal genitalia and how sexual pleasure may play a part in mating practices, specifically with bottlenose dolphins.
In an email to Snopes, Orbach confirmed that this claim is true and, depending on your perspective, a male-to-male “alliance” can very well be considered a “bromance.”
Male dolphins form what scientists refer to as alliances between multiple buddies, each of whom helps their friends get lucky with a particular lady cetacean.
“Absolutely male bottlenose dolphin alliances have been well established since the early 1990s,” Orbach told Snopes in an email, referring our newsroom to an August 2022 study published in the peer-reviewed journal, PNAS.
That study investigated what is arguably the most well-documented dolphin population to form bromances, according to biologist Richard Connor. Known as the Shark Bay group located in Australia, this pod of dolphins, like humans, form “strategic intergroup alliances between unrelated individuals” in what is believed to be the largest nonhuman alliance network known to science.
“Each male is connected, directly or indirectly, to every other male,” wrote the research team.
Similar to relationships seen in chimpanzees and humans, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (scientific name Tursiops aduncus) found in Shark Bay form alliances that are defined by researchers as “enduring relationships with repeated instances of cooperation.” These alliances are “driven by cooperation and competition over access to females, where two to three males form aggressively maintained consortships with individual females that last from hours to weeks.”
Males – with their “large testes and a promiscuous mating system” – will, for one, herd females to keep them from mating with other males. This behavior is known as mate-guarding and can occur anywhere from a few minutes to several months with up to 13 males participating in a single breeding season.'
The behavior is not observed across all male bottlenose dolphins and different populations have different mating strategies, according to the 2023 book, “Sex in Cetaceans: Morphology, Behavior, and the Evolution of Sexual Strategies."
In some groups, for example, allied males will travel abreast behind the female or flank her on either side and slightly behind. To keep a female from mating, males may threaten females through their posture and vocalizations or by biting and colliding with them.
Bottlenose dolphins are one of the only mammals where males are known to "cooperate within their social group in order to maintain mating access to single females against other males," according to a 2001 study published in The Royal Society.
(A triad of allied males herding a female traveled “in formation” behind the female. Springer Link)
With their large brains, dolphins form multilevel alliances as well, meaning they have both besties and periphery friendships. Dolphins are also polygynandrous, meaning that both sexes mate with multiple partners in a given breeding season to both increase reproductive success and reduce infanticide. (That’s because any member of the pod could be a daddy.)
All said and done, in biological terms bromancing is meant to “obtain more paternities” – or ensure that the group will have viable offspring.