Date of Award

Fall 12-1-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair

Alen Hajnal

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Richard Mohn

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Lawrence Patihis

Committee Member 3 School


Committee Member 4

Heather Hill

Committee Member 4 School



Studies of personality and temperament in humans span many disciplines, although animal research is still relatively undeveloped. Research investigating stable individual differences in marine mammals has been limited, and to date there have not been any studies with beluga whales. As an ongoing longitudinal study, seven beluga calves, housed at SeaWorld San Antonio, were videotaped throughout their first two years of life. Four videos were selected from archived video recordings for each calf from the following nine phases: newborn phase (month 1), Q1 (month 2-3), Q2 (month 4-6), Q3 (month 7-9), Q4 (month 10-12), Q5 (month 13-15), Q6 (month 16-18), Q7 (month 19-21), Q8 (month 22-24). Videos were coded for 40 behaviors: three behavioral states, including durations, and 37 behaviors for frequency. These behaviors were later consolidated to 23 behaviors for analysis. A Principal Components Analysis (PCA) of these 23 behaviors across all seven whales yielded a five-factor model for beluga calf temperament. Factors included mother-calf bond, sociability, independence, exploration-vigilance, curiosity-playfulness. A PCA for year one and a PCA from year two were compared and did not yield the same five factors. A paired-samples t-test revealed that five of 26 behaviors were significantly different between year one and year two, and 21 behaviors were significantly different between the newborn phase and year one. While there was only one behavior, orient at researcher, that was not observed in the newborn phase, the calves’ behavior was significantly different during their first month of life. The orient at researcher behavior was observed for the first time around quarter three in all seven whales, signifying a potential milestone. The time the calves spent swimming with their mothers decreased with age, while the time spent swimming socially and swimming alone increased with age. Based on the five-factor model, beluga calves each had their own distinct temperament. While temperament appears to not have stabilized by year two, distinct patterns of behavior were observable in year one and year two. Based on the behavioral patterns of the whales in the first two years of life, it can be argued that beluga calves have distinct temperaments.