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Media opportunity: How do whales and dolphins make decisions? Do they follow a leader or decide as a group? Dalhousie University researcher looks into it and finds unexpected results

Posted by Communications and Marketing on September 12, 2023 in News

Many species of whales and dolphins live in pods, with some groups frequently reaching more than 50 members. It's thought they form large schools for protection, to better hunt for food and find mates, and to socialize and share knowledge.

But how do these species make decisions with so many members? Do they follow a leader or decide as a group?

Researchers at Dalhousie University examined the scientific literature on how both terrestrial and aquatic mammals make decisions and came up with some surprising findings.

Knowing that whales and dolphins live in ocean environments where food is patchy and unpredictable, and where there is little evidence of territoriality as with many land mammals, they expected to find a lot of shared decision-making. Studies show, however, that decisions are often made by leaders in whale and dolphin pods.

Elizabeth Zwamborn, a marine mammal scientist at Dalhousie, led the review that suggests pod members may value the knowledge of older individuals, particularly females, and follow their lead.

Zwamborn is available to discuss the findings and why there is a need for more research on decision-making among whales and dolphins to better understand such things as mass stranding events.


Media contact:

Alison Auld 
Senior Research Reporter 
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services 
Dalhousie University 
Cell: 1-902-220-0491 


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