Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Quincy Gibson

Second Advisor

Dr. Joseph Butler

Third Advisor

Dr. Eric Johnson

Department Chair

Dr. Cliff Ross

College Dean

Dr. Daniel Moon


Bottlenose dolphins exhibit fission-fusion social systems in which group size and composition change fluidly throughout the day. Societies are typically sexually segregated, and the quality and patterning of individual relationships in this social species shape the social structure of a population. Female dolphins usually have a large network of associates with whom they form recurring moderate bonds, while male associations are highly variable due to their mating strategies. Males employ one of two strategies; males may be solitary, and encounter and herd females individually, while others may form strong bonds with one to two other males and cooperatively herd individual females in the shape of a first-order alliance. Second-order alliances are more uncommon and have only been observed in Shark Bay, Australia, and more recently within the St. Johns River (SJR), Jacksonville, Florida. Given the inter-population variation in male mating strategies, greater documentation of social structure in neighboring populations along the Atlantic coast is needed. Therefore, chapter one documents the social structure of the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) estuarine system where dolphins have experienced recurrent cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV) epizootics. Although environmental disturbances can affect both social and mating systems, IRL dolphin sociality does not seem to be affected by the 2008 CeMV mass mortality event. Additionally, males only form first-order alliances within this population. Because multi-level alliances are unique to the SJR in this region, chapter two analyzes the stability and function of SJR alliances. Both first- and second-order alliances exhibited variation in stability, while alliance association appears dependent on female presence. Thus, SJR alliances likely function within a reproductive context. Together, this work provides insight into the social and mating systems of bottlenose dolphins, as well as the function of multi-level alliances at a relatively new study site.