Dolphin Mating & Reproduction

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  • 0:04 Dolphin Mating Background
  • 1:05 Dolphin Reproduction
  • 2:03 Dolphin Mating Practices
  • 3:29 Some Weird Mating Facts
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Dolphins may seem cute and cuddly, but dolphin mating and reproduction is a different story. This lesson explores the basics of dolphin mating and reproduction, and delves into some little-known facts of dolphin mating.

Dolphin Mating Background

Imagine a beautiful ocean scene with dolphins jumping and playing. Doesn't it look great? Under the water, however, there is a dolphin dark side: mating. Oftentimes, this process is far from beautiful, at least from the human perspective. Sometimes, gangs of male dolphins will team up to steal females from other groups, while other times females will chase off the male gangs. Sometimes female dolphins are even attacked by male dolphins.

This lesson will explore the ins and outs of cetacean mating, or when dolphins, whales, or porpoises come together with the purpose of producing offspring. While this lesson will focus on dolphins, porpoises and whales will be mentioned too.

There are over forty species of dolphin and, like you, they are all mammals. This means they give live birth (and don't lay eggs). And also like you, dolphins are social creatures that often live in pods, or groups. Before we get into the weird and funky aspects of dolphin mating, let's start with some basics.

Dolphin Reproduction

The age of sexual maturity varies depending on the species of dolphin and where that dolphin resides. Generally, females reach sexual maturity between 5 and 13 years of age, and males reach maturity between 10 and 14.

Dolphins are polygamous, meaning they have more than one mate. Mating occurs throughout the year, but in some regions it spikes in the fall and the spring. Depending on the species of dolphin, females can be pregnant from nine to seventeen months. For example, the bottlenose dolphin is pregnant for twelve months, whereas the killer whale, or orca (which is actually a type of dolphin), is pregnant for around seventeen months. Imagine carrying a baby for that long!

After giving birth, the mother pushes the baby, called a calf, to the surface so it can breathe. The calf nurses (drinks milk from the mother) for up to two years, depending on the species. Females usually have one calf every three to five years, and each calf may stay with its mother for five years.

Dolphin Mating Practices

So how do dolphins get to reproduction? Male dolphins try to woo females in a variety of ways. A male may sing to his love interest, bring her gifts, and even perform acrobatic maneuvers to win her attention. If there are multiple suitors, males will even fight with each other to see who gets to mate with the female.

Unfortunately for the females, sometimes males form gangs that kidnap females from other pods. One or more of the males in the gang will try to mate with the female, and if she refuses, she is often attacked. On occasion, female groups are able to chase the males away.

When dolphins do mate, each mating only takes about ten seconds, but it can be repeated several times over the next few days, or even within an hour. Dolphins mate belly to belly, and after the mating, the male leaves to find a new mate. Females are left to raise the calf without the male.

Sometimes the young males will form same-sex relationships, and will play and hunt together for years. Some of these males have strictly homosexual behavior, whereas others are bisexual.

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