National Geographic : 2016 Feb
PHOTO: JIM ABERNETHY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE A genteel disquisition on love and lust in the animal kingdom Basic Instincts Having frequent, promiscuous, and arguably deviant sex has made the bonobo an infamous ape. But the dolphin, says University of Massachu- setts marine biologist Richard Connor, “can out-bonobo the bonobo.” When dolphins want to procreate, the males will guard and mate repeat- edly with females during an intense consortship. But throughout that time, the marine mammals still engage in “a lot of social sex,” says Connor, who has studied dolphins for 30 years. By that he means “tons of male-male sex, and sex among juveniles.” And he means sex for pleasure in assorted positions: belly to belly, mounting from many angles, and “goosing,” a vari- ant of the nosy way dogs check each other out. In captivity dolphins have been known to make sexual overtures toward other species swimming with them—including humans. In light of this libido, why aren’t the seas flipper to flipper full of dol- phins? Because recreational sex doesn’t equal reproduction. Even if males and females mate promiscuously every time the females could conceive, most female dolphins still bear just one calf every few years. With dolphins at risk from fishing, pollution, and other perils, it’s a shame that these ani- mals are so much more carnal than fruitful. —Patricia Edmonds Social Sex Under the Sea HABITAT/RANGE Oceans worldwide CONSERVATION STATUS The family Delphinidae includes Atlantic spotted dolphins (left) and 35 other species. For about half of them, scientists lack suffi- cient data to assess whether they’re endangered. OTHER FACTS In Greek mythology and art, dolphins often appear as companions of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.