Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

David Echevarria

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Donald Sacco

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Holli Eskelinen


Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have been documented to possess personality traits that remain consistent over time (Highfill & Kuczaj, 2007) and across contexts (Kuczaj, Highfill, & Byerly, 2012). Such individual differences are thought to play an important role in various social contexts such as hierarchical dominance (Highfill & Kuczaj, 2010). The present study investigated the relationship between personality and social rank within a captive group of bottlenose dolphins housed at the Roatan Institute for Marine Science (RIMS). Social rank was established using questionnaires distributed to the RIMS experienced staff. Personality traits were derived from behavioral coding using context-specific correlational matrices. The traits were then correlated to each dolphin’s social rank position. The results suggest that a relationship between individual personality and social status is present, but complex. Traits that emerged exhibited sex-differences. Of the 12 factors found for the males, sexual (DID), contact seeking (DIO) and camaraderie (DID) were significantly related to social rank. For the females, only factors playful (DIO) and evasive (DIH) were significantly related to social rank. Individuals ranked at both extremes of the hierarchy (highest and lowest) seem to exhibit a more correlative relationship between personality and social status. However, other factors appear to play an important role in this relationship for middle-ranked dolphins. These results suggest that factors such as age, strength of associations between individuals, maternal style, and interactions between the male and female hierarchies all influence how personality is expressed in different contexts.