Minimally invasive physiological correlates of social behaviour in belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) under human care

  • Justin T. Richard Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA; and Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Rachael Levine Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA; and Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Tracy A. Romano Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Becky L. Sartini Department of Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Sciences, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA
Keywords: reproduction, cetacean, mating strategies, blow, steroid hormones, aquarium

Abstract

Simultaneous observations of reproductive physiology and behaviour were conducted on a group of two male and two female belugas under professionally managed care for one year to explore potential mating strategies. Weekly blow sampling for progesterone in females was used to define the breeding season by detecting three oestrous cycles in one female. Twice weekly blow sampling for testosterone and twice monthly testes measurements via ultrasonography were used to detect reproductive seasonality in both males. Female–male association frequency varied longitudinally, with 70% of all interactions occurring during the 16-week breeding season. Male–male associations did not vary seasonally. Male display behaviours towards the female occurred 14.8 times more frequently during the breeding season (0.164 ± 0.188 behaviours/min) than outside of the breeding season (0.011 ± 0.042 behaviours/min). The cycling female responded variably to male display behaviours by altering swim speed or body orientation towards the male. Although this small sample size limits broad conclusions, the frequent display behaviours, low copulation rate and lack of serious male–male aggression are consistent with predictions for pre-copulatory female mate choice developed from the current knowledge of beluga reproductive physiology. These observations, which are not feasible for wild belugas, provide important management considerations because reduced opportunities for mate choice could limit the reproductive rate, especially in small populations.

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Published
2021-07-26
How to Cite
Richard, J. T., Levine, R., Romano, T. A., & Sartini, B. L. (2021). Minimally invasive physiological correlates of social behaviour in belugas (<em>Delphinapterus leucas</em&gt;) under human care. Polar Research, 40(S1). https://doi.org/10.33265/polar.v40.5504

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