A unique social division among a population of bottlenose dolphins in Australia's Moreton Bay has ended, according to a new study.
The dolphins lived as two distinct groups that rarely interacted, one of which foraged on trawler bycatch. But scientists think that a ban on fishing boats from key areas has brought the two groups together.
They believe these socially flexible mammals have united to hunt for new food sources together. The findings are published in the journal Animal Behaviour.
The Moreton Bay dolphins were thought to be the only recorded example of a single population that consisted of groups that were not associating with each other in a split dubbed "the parting of the pods".
But since the study that discovered the rift, trawlers have been banned from designated areas of the bay leading to a 50% reduction in the fishing effort.
A key area of the bay to the south, where the social split was observed by the previous study, has been protected. The changes gave scientists a unique opportunity to observe the adaptability of dolphin society.
The "trawler" dolphins from Moreton Bay had previously fed on the bycatch from boats while the "non-trawlers" found other sources of food. "There's never been really any experiments looking at social structure... where you can compare what it was like before and what it is like now," said Dr Ina Ansmann, marine vertebrate ecologist, University of Queensland, and the study's lead author.