Mother-infant spatial relations in captive bottlenose dolphins, tursiops truncatus

Cara Gubbins, Brenda Mccowan, Spencer K. Lynn, Stacie Hooper, Diana Reiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


The prolonged nursing period and strong, extended mother-infant bond observed among bottlenose dolphins may reflect social and physical ontogeny critical for infant survival. This study was conducted to quantify ontogentic changes in mother-infant contact time and the amount of time infants spent in specific spatial states with their mothers from birth to age 12 mo. These behaviors were studied through a systematic, longitudinal study of six mother-infant pairs of captive bottlenose dolphins from three different social groups. There was a significant decrease in the time infants spent with their mothers (logistic regression, P < 0.001), following the general mammalian pattern of increasing independence with age. When with their mothers, the probability that infants would be found in 'echelon' position, flanking the mother, decreased as the calf aged (logistic regression, P < 0.001), possibly due to anatomical and hydrodynamic factors. The probability that infants would be found in 'infant' position, underneath the mother, increased with calf age (logistic regression, P < 0.001). Results obtained in this study are consistent with similar studies of wild bottlenose dolphin mother-infant pairs, indicating a suite of ontogenetically comparable behaviors between wild and captive bottlenose dolphins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-765
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Mammal Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999


  • Bottlenose dolphin
  • Development
  • Mother-infant
  • Ontogeny
  • Social behavior
  • Spatial relations
  • Tursiops truncatus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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