Florida Atlantic University
The Wild Dolphin Project
My master's research investigated the role of cooperation during interspecific aggression between two wild species of dolphins, the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) and the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the Bahamas.
Both the Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins are resident, sympatric species to Little Bahama Bank in the Bahamas. For over two decades aggression between these two species had been documented, but little was known about how the aggression changed over time and whether one species was more dominant than the other. I specifically investigated how factors like individual body size, group size, and cooperation among group members influenced the dynamic of aggression.
Using long-term data from The Wild Dolphin Project (advisor: Dr. Denise Herzing) and data I collected in the field as part of the research project, my research showed that over the long-term aggression between the two species was bi-directional, with neither species being more dominant. However, during a single aggressive encounter spotted dolphin group synchrony had the biggest impact on the progression and outcome of the aggressive encounter (Cusick & Herzing 2014).
Jessica Cusick films Atlantic spotted dolphin in the Bahamas. Photo Credit: The Wild Dolphin Project
Above water and underwater photos of interspecific aggression between Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins.
Left: an adult bottlenose and juvenile spotted dolphin leap out of the water during an aggressive interaction. Bottom left: two adult bottlenose dolphins hold down a juvenile Atlantic spotted dolphin. Bottom right: A group of Atlantic spotted dolphins begin to form. When cooperating and behaving in a synchronized fashion, this group can successfully fend off the bottlenose dolphin. Photo Credit: Jessica Cusick and the Wild Dolphin Project