A new level of complexity in the male alliance networks of Indian Ocean bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.).
Male bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia form two levels of alliances; two to three males cooperate to herd individual females and teams of greater than three males compete with other groups for females. Previous observation suggested two alliance tactics: small four to six member teams of relatives that formed stable pairs or trios and unrelated males in a large 14-member second-order alliance that had labile trio formation. Here, we present evidence for a third level of alliance formation, a continuum of second-order alliance sizes and no relationship between first-order alliance stability and second-order alliance size. These findings challenge the 'two alliance tactics' hypothesis and add to the evidence that Shark Bay male bottlenose dolphins engage in alliance formation that likely places considerable demands on their social cognition.