Evidence for infanticide in bottlenose dolphins: an explanation for violent interactions with harbour porpoises?

I. A. P. Patterson, R. J. Reid, B. Wilson, K. Grellier, H.M. Ross, P.M. Thompson

Abstract

Most harbour porpoises found dead on the north–east coast of Scotland show signs of attack by sympatric bottlenose dolphins, but the reason(s) for these violent interactions remains unclear. Post–mortem examinations of stranded bottlenose dolphins indicate that five out of eight young calves from this same area were also killed by bottlenose dolphins. These data, together with direct observations of an aggressive interaction between an adult bottlenose dolphin and a dead bottlenose dolphin calf, provide strong evidence for infanticide in this population. The similarity in the size range of harbour porpoises and dolphin calves that showed signs of attack by bottlenose dolphins suggests that previously reported interspecific interactions could be related to this infanticidal behaviour. These findings appear to provide the first evidence of infanticide in cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). We suggest that infanticide must be considered as a factor shaping sociality in this and other species of cetaceans, and may have serious consequences for the viability of small populations.