Seasonality of social behaviour among immature belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) in managed care

  • Jackson R. Ham Department of Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, Canada
  • Malin K. Lilley Department of Life Sciences, Texas A&M University–San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA
  • Malin R. Miller SeaWorld San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA
  • Heather M. Manitzas Hill Department of Psychology, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX, USA
Keywords: Juvenile behaviour, sociality, white whales, socio-sexual behaviour, agonistic behaviour, affiliative behaviour


Belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) in managed care have been reported to show seasonal variation in socio-sexual behaviour, hormone levels and respiration rates; however, little is known about the social interactions of wild belugas when they are not in summer, near-shore congregations. To better understand if belugas show seasonal variation in social interactions, this study recorded the behaviour of 10 belugas (five females, five males, ranging from birth to 10 years of age) housed in managed care. Social interactions typically peaked in the summer months but persisted at very low levels during the rest of the year. Seasonal variation was most dramatic for socio-sexual behaviour but was generally mirrored in pattern by agonistic and affiliative interactions. Subjects closer to maturity displayed more seasonal variation than younger subjects, and males displayed more seasonal variation compared to females. The peak in social interactions found in this study aligns rather closely with wild belugas’ summer, near-shore congregations, where belugas have increased opportunities for socializing. Although belugas in managed care do not experience a seasonal change in habitat, they do show seasonal changes in social behaviour, which are likely driven by seasonal fluctuations in hormone levels. It is therefore expected that wild beluga populations would show similar behavioural patterns if they were observed throughout the remainder of the year. This research has applications for belugas in managed care and may provide a framework for understanding the social behaviour of wild belugas.


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How to Cite
Ham J. R., Lilley M. K., Miller M. R., & Hill H. M. M. (2021). Seasonality of social behaviour among immature belugas (<em>Delphinapterus leucas</em&gt;) in managed care. Polar Research, 40(S1).