Scientists have observed male humpback dolphins presenting females with large marine sponges in an effort to mate.

Australia's bottlenose dolphins have long been known to use sea sponges as a tool for finding a meal—but now researchers may have observed males of another species attempting to woo females with them.

Over a period of 10 years, a team of marine biologists watched male Australian humpback dolphins present large, ornate sponges to females—and on occasion even toss these putative love tokens their way.

“A display to impress a female is not unusual, but using an object in that display is very unusual,” says study leader Simon Allen, a biologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

They observed adult male Australian humpback dolphins presenting large marine sponges to females, alongside visual and acoustic display.

Their first observation was between a male and female dolphin and her calf.

The male dolphin dived down to remove a large marine sponge fixed to the seafloor, balanced it on his beak and pushed it toward the female.

'Here we have some of the most socially complex animals on the planet using sponges, not as a foraging tool, but as a gift, a display of his quality, or perhaps even as a threat in the behavioural contexts of socialising and mating.'


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