Synergy between behavioural research on beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) conducted in zoological and wild settings

  • Heather M. Manitzas Hill Psychology Department, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX, USA
  • Deirdre B. Yeater Psychology Department, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, USA
  • Michael Noonan Biology Department, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY, USA
Keywords: Animal cognition, aquariums, captive whales, socio-sexual interactions, maternal behaviour, play


Behavioural observations of captive beluga whales have complemented and extended much of what has been learnt about this species in the wild. Aquarium-based research has provided finer-scale specificity for many topics, including the seasonal breeding pattern that is characteristic of this species, as well as socio-sexual behaviour that appears to be an important part of the behavioural repertoire of this species. One example is a strong propensity for male–male social interactions that begin to develop at an early age. In addition, detailed behavioural milestones in calves have been documented in ways that extend that which have been collected from wild populations. These include swim positions with mother, separations/reunions with mother, and other social interactions, and play. Characteristics of beluga maternal care have also been studied more often in captive settings than in the wild, particularly with respect to details pertaining to nursing behaviour, individual differences in maternal style and allomaternal care. Other topics that have received scientific scrutiny in zoological settings include individual differences and behavioural laterality. Thus, a greater understanding of beluga behavioural biology has the potential to emerge as a consequence of synergy between research conducted in the two settings.


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How to Cite
Hill H. M. M., Yeater D. B., & Noonan M. (2021). Synergy between behavioural research on beluga whales (<em>Delphinapterus leucas</em&gt;) conducted in zoological and wild settings. Polar Research, 40(S1).