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If your spirit animal is a dolphin, you may want to think about changing spirit animals.
At least that’s what Dr. Andrea Bayden, a psychiatrist played by Tina Fey on Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, would have you believe.
Netflix released the second season of the show — which follows happy-go lucky former cult member Kimmy Schmidt played by Ellie Kemper — on April 15. In the ninth episode, Schmidt meets a drunk Bayden, who tells Schmidt her sleep cycle is erratic.
"You know who else doesn’t sleep a lot?" Schmidt replied. "Dolphins. And they’re always smiling."
Not so fast, Bayden said: "Dolphins are rapists. Look it up."
Yes, yes, this is a fictional show. But people wondered if the line was more than a joke. And quite honestly, so did we. (If you hate fun, we have plenty of fact-checks about tax policy you can read.)
As it turns out, this is somewhat of an urban legend. Research has shown that dolphins sometimes exhibit somewhat aggressive behavior in their mating practices, but it’s not fair to call it rape.
Females are strong as hell
The myth largely emerged from research conducted on bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, said Janet Mann, vice provost for research and a biology professor at Georgetown University.
Mann, who worked on the Shark Bay research, said male bottlenose dolphins form alliances with two to four other males, and these groups will consort with a single female, and mating occurs. Often, the males will be aggressive toward the female and attack males outside of the alliance that attempt to get near or steal the female.
But the female can avoid mating with a particular male by turning away, or she can go belly up at the surface to avoid mating at all.
There’s no evidence to show that the males force the females to mate, said Richard Connor, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth who has also worked on Shark Bay dolphin research. It’s possible they intimidate the females, but that’s unproven.
Connor added that researchers think female dolphins try to mate with a number of different males, to confuse the issue of paternity and reduce the risk of infanticide. So they may actually want to mate with the males that herd them.
"Males force the females to stay with them, but (there’s) no evidence of forced copulation," Connor said. "People are making a leap, perhaps because they have not considered that females may want to mate with as many males as possible."
In a 2013 blog post debunking the dolphin-rape myth, dolphin behavior expert Justin Gregg noted that there are also rumors that dolphins rape humans. While there might be isolated incidents of dolphins with erections around humans or thrusting toward them, this is not rape. It’s unclear whether the dolphins actually want to mate or if it’s another form of social behavior, Gregg said.
"Calling any of this behavior rape trivializes the word rape," Gregg wrote. "It either downplays the horrific human behavior of rape by jokingly misapplying it to quirky animal behavior, or unnecessarily vilifies what is, for dolphins, a diverse catalog of behaviors that might not cause the dolphins involved very much stress, and might even be consensual 100 percent of the time."
Gregg, a big Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fan, told PolitiFact he wouldn’t be surprised if Fey and the show’s other writers know that the dolphins-as-rapists meme is not actually true.
"Either way, if it gets people Googling the concept and reading up on why it’s not really accurate to describe dolphins as rapists, all the better," he said.
Tina Fey’s character on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt said, "Dolphins are rapists. Look it up."
We did. It’s just a myth. While research has shown some aggressive mating behavior among dolphin males, this isn’t the same thing as "rape." Importantly, there’s no evidence to show that the females are forced to mate.
We looked it up and found that this claim is very much breakable. False.
Justin Gregg blog, "The ‘Dolphin Rape’ Myth," June 11, 2013
Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans, "Summary: the key differences between dolphins and chimpanzees," 2009
Email interview, science writer Justin Gregg, April 22, 2016
Email interview, Georgetown vice provost Janet Mann, April 22, 2016
Email interview, UMass Dartmouth professor Richard Connor, April 22, 2016
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