Part of a series based on Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. Because Dolphins are found in temperate to tropical coastal waters throughout large parts of the world, they’re already somewhat notorious for sexiness, but no matter how many other human values get projected onto them their bisexuality and homosexuality is still frequently whitewashed. There are four basic social units in Bottlenose society: mothers and calf pairs, adolescent groups (often male only or male dominated), bands of up to a dozen adult females and their young, and adult males in lifelong pair bonds. Yes, male dolphins get sort of gay married. In some communities more than three-quarters of all males are in same-sex partnerships.
Dolphins of the same sex sometimes spend anything from several minutes to many hours rubbing against each other, caressing, stroking, mouthing, chasing, pushing and leaping. This sexual play involves their whole bodies including fins, flukes, snouts, heads and genitals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the males often sport erections during this type of play. Although humans who “play” with Dolphins are often too starry-eyed and idealising to notice it, male Dolphins are quite often engaging with these humans in what is to them sex play. They’re not choosy about species, and they’ll have sex (or try to) with other types of marine mammals.
QED. The gentleman depicted here seems to be enjoying himself, anyway.
Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Homosexuality: Female & Male Behaviours: Courtship, Affectionate, Sexual, Pair-bonding Ranking: Primary Observed: Wild, Captivity
(See It’s Gay Animal Fortnight for an explanation of this box.)
Overt homosexuality includes probing the genital area with flukes or flippers. Female Dolphins may take turns stimulating each other’s clitoris, or actively masturbate against their partner’s appendages, or clasp one another belly-to-belly as in a heterosexual mating.
Because both males and females have a genital slit, penetration of it is possible by both sexes. Sometimes this develops into the somewhat bizarre “beak-genital propulsion”, where one Dolphin inserts his or her snout into a partner’s genital slit and gently propels them both through the water. Male on male sex also mostly takes place with a penis placed in the other’s genital slit rather than in the anus. The two male partners usually take turns being penetrated in this way. Another characteristic of Dolphin sex, heterosexual and homosexual alike, is the genital buzz: stimulating the genitals with sound waves. Again, when you swim with Dolphins… that buzz you feel in your tummy is not good clean fun. They’re trying to turn you on.
The related Spinner Dolphins sometimes have heterosexual and homosexual orgies of twelve or more individuals. These groups are called “wuzzles”, a babyish term which has to have been coined by some squeamish puritanical American. They’re darn well not having an O.R.G. you-know-what, they’re having a wuzzle.
After a period of promiscuous homosexual activity in their all-male group, two males of about the same age usually form a particularly strong bond. From then onwards they are constant companions and they’ll spend the rest of their lives together. On some occasions they form three-way partnerships. A male who loses his partner may spend a long time searching for a new companion, because other males who are paired up won’t break their bonds. Sometimes two “widowers” will become partners. Males will be bonded for ten to fifteen years before they father calves, if they do so at all. Until then the majority of their sexual interaction is homosexual. Even when they father calves, male couples stay together and leave childcare to the females.
(I’m single, virtually everyone I know is married or living with somebody and writing that last paragraph made me really depressed.)
The minority who never form life partnerships are probably the only genuinely heterosexual male Dolphins. How about that for putting silly arguments about homosexuality into perspective? All the other Dolphins probably bug these straight Dolphins all the time about when they decided to be heterosexual, tell them they just haven’t met the right Dolphin man yet, subject them to intrusive questions about heterosex, and so forth.
Heterosexual interactions in Dolphins are also characterised by being non-reproductive. Males and females engage in all the sexual activities mentioned above. Female Dolphin sexuality is orientated towards pleasure and stimulation of the clitoris rather than on penetration. Bottlenose Dolphins interact sexually regardless of whether it’s their mating season or not, and they all masturbate. These types of sexual interactions are in fact one of the few times when the otherwise segregated social groups see each other. Most Bottlenose calves are sired by males from outside of this immediate community anyway.
Hippies and new agey people like to drivel on about how spiritual Dolphins are. Some of them may be, just as some people are. But mostly Dolphins just like to fuck. And before we also idealise them too much for their sexual liberation, we should bear in mind that certain individuals among their communities share with certain humans darker, nonconsensual sexual desires of the kind that the majority of humans abhor. Presumably most Dolphins also abhor them in some way, otherwise they’d all be at it. Nonetheless, some Dolphins have been witnessed trying to kidnap calves from their mothers and mate with them. Infanticide has been discovered in some Bottlenose communities. Lone adult females are sometimes harassed by groups of young males; these females are surrounded and then bitten, body slammed, sexually abused and/or raped. Strangely, unlike leaping and playing through the waves, I’ve never seen any of these events depicted in a kitsch, sentimental painting.
Next time on Gay Animal Fortnight… Planet of the Lesbian Macaques
Original Dolphin image from Wikipedia Commons.