Ethology (2007)

DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2007.01347.x


Mate guarding, whereby a male closely attends and defends a fertile female from extra-pair matings, is one mating tactic males of many species use to protect their paternity. Although female defense occurs in many species of terrestrial mammal, comparable examples among cetaceans are largely absent, potentially as a result of the wide dispersion and mobility of females and their prey. Here, we investigate whether the close association of individual male Dall’s porpoises with individual females during the breeding season is consistent with mate guarding. As mate guarding is predicted to be costly, and in other taxa is often associated with a reduction in foraging efficiency, we also examine whether males trade-off this activity with time at depth. Males maintained longer associations and closer distances with female partners than with male ones. They also surfaced in greater synchrony with, and more often approached, their female partners than male ones. In contrast to males with male partners, males paired with females engaged in agonistic interactions with other adult males, and infrequently affiliated with extra-pair individuals. These data suggest males are actively attempting to maintain their associations with females, while also acting to reduce female extra-pair copulations and increase their own paternity. Guarding males also undertook shorter dives than non-guarding males, suggesting that they trade-off time at depth with guarding. Such a trade-off is likely to involve a reduction in foraging opportunities, due to a decrease in time spent at foraging depth. Mate guarding in this species may be facilitated by the relatively smaller size and decreased mobility of newly calved, estrous females, particularly if females also benefit from guarding.