How many dolphins live in a pod?
Even though dolphins are often referred to as living in 'pods', in fact only Killer Whales (Orcas) live in pods. Most dolphins live in small groups that change from hour to hour, day to day, or seasonally.
Scientists call this a 'fission-fusion' society, because dolphins come and go from the group. Like humans, sometimes they get together in larger groups or 'herds' for a while. Occasionally when food is plentiful, dolphins may join together into a 'super pod' of over 1,000 dolphins, but that only tends to happen in the deep ocean. In shallower seas, dolphin groups are much smaller.
Some dolphin communities are centred around the mother (called 'matrilineal'). For example in Shark Bay in Australia groups will be centred around a female, her offspring or sisters, and other females. Often adult daughters will stay with their mother.
Young boy dolphins usually leave their family groups. Instead they join bachelor groups of other male dolphins that may remain together for years and years. These young males can form strong friendships and work together to find a mate.
When dolphins mate, dolphins do not stay together like a human couple. Instead the mother will bring up the youngster without the help of the father.
Killer whales, (Orcas'), often stay with their mothers for life in matrilineal pods. They may leave the pod for a while, but probably not for more than a day or so. This applies to both boy and girl Orcas.
Why live in a pod or a group at all? Like humans, dolphins are very sociable and cooperate closely together to hunt, to defend themselves and to mate. Feeding alone is inefficient and dangerous. It's easier to fight off a shark if you're in a group.
Who's boss in a group? As with many animal groups there will be a dominant dolphin which the others follow. The main dolphin may make their presence felt by tail-slapping, jaw-popping, chasing and raking.
On the other hand, the top dolphin may just have more experience and wisdom than the others and act as a teacher to the youngsters.
See also understanddolphins