Do Pinnipeds Have Personality? Broad Dimensions and Contextual Consistency of Behavior In Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) and California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus)

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Personality has now been studied in species as diverse as chimpanzees and cuttlefish, but marine mammals remain vastly underrepresented in this area. A broad range of traits have been assessed only once in each of bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions, while consistent individual differences in a few specific behaviors have been identified in grey seals. Furthermore, the context component of definitions of personality is not often assessed, despite evidence that animals may show individual patterns of behavioral consistency across contexts. The current study therefore aimed to use behavioral coding to assess underlying personality factors and consistency across contexts in two marine mammal species: California sea lions and harbor seals. In both species, two personality factors were extracted using exploratory factor analysis. Both were broadly similar across species; the first, Boldness, resembled human Extraversion, and to some extent Openness, with sea lions exhibiting a greater social component. The second factor was labeled Routine Activity, and may contain some Conscientiousness-like traits. Species-specific patterns were also identified for interactive behaviors across two contexts. However, there was substantial individual variation in the frequency of these behaviors, as well as some animals who did not conform to group-level trends. This study therefore provides novel evidence for broad personality factors and both group and individual-level patterns of contextual consistency in two pinniped species.

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