Researchers at Murdoch University have come across a pod of dolphins engaging in homosexual behavior in the waters off Australia's western coast.
This may or may not come as a surprise, but homosexuality is more common in the animal world than we may think. Both male and female bottlenose dolphins, in particular, are known to exhibit homosexual behavior.
The question remains as to why these animals engage in homosexuality. This, of course, is what scientists seek to explain. After all, in terms of the survival of the species, homosexual behavior doesn't seem to make sense. Same-sex pairings do not produce offspring, plain and simple. So what does homosexuality do for these animals then?
Previous studies have found that some animal species seem to engage in sexual behavior not just for reproduction, but for other purposes as well. Some animals have sexual relations for pleasure, which may be surprising to learn. Scientists think that in the case of bottlenose dolphins, sex is also a form of social bonding.
Researchers were able to observe a pod of 15 male dolphins in the waters off the coast of Mandurah, Australia after the peak of mating season has passed. Only three of the dolphins have reached adulthood; the rest were juveniles. The dolphins “organized themselves in four subgroups in which they were observed engaging in socio-sexual behavior that included mounting and genital contact between individuals,” says Krista Nicholson, one of the researchers. “The subgroups joined, frequently forming a large group, and then split again in different group compositions.”
Nicholson says that this kind of behavior is actually typical among dolphins. Researchers have also observed the same behavior among sharks in Shark Bay, which is also in Western Australia. The sharks in Shark Bay have also been observed to exhibit bisexuality. Nicholson adds that “socio-sexual interactions between males are more common than between females or between the sexes”.
Sexual relations may also help with the development of social bonds among male dolphins. It's possible that it plays a role in establishing dominance, social hierarchy, and alliances. Since the dolphins in Mandurah were juveniles, its also possible that homosexual behavior can help them practice courtship techniques for adulthood.
Most animals are not truly homosexuals in that they will hardly or never have sexual relations with the opposite sex. Scientists have observed that animals will mate in order to reproduce, then carry on with their same-sex relationships. So far, humans are one of only two species to exhibit the ability to have a consistent sexual orientation. The other species is domesticated sheep.
Domesticated sheep have shown that up to 8% of males in flocks prefer the company of other males, even when there are fertile females around. Scientists have found that these male sheep have a smaller hypothalamus, the organ that releases sex hormones, than that of other males.
Of course, these are domesticated sheep. It's possible that we may not be able to find consistent homosexuality in animals in the wild. Still, these findings show that homosexual behavior isn't as unnatural as some may claim it to be.
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