Study of Personality in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Using Keepers’ Ratings
2018 Joint EAZWV/AAZV/Leibniz-IZW Conference
Marina Salas1, DVM, MSc, PhD; Eva Martínez-Nevado2, DVM; Agustín López Goya2, Biol; Jesús Fernández Morán2, DVM, PhD; Xavier Manteca1, DVM, MSc, PhD, DECAWBM
1Facultat de Veterinària, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain; 2Zoo Aquarium de Madrid, Madrid, Spain


‘Personality’ or ‘temperament’ describes behavioural differences between individuals of the same species that are not attributable to age or sex, and that are consistent over time.1,2 We used a personality questionnaire to assess temperament traits in 47 bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in six groups in five different centres. Our questionnaire was based on the Five Factor Model of Personality1 and consisted of a list of adjectives. Twenty-four people (raters) were asked to score each animal on these adjectives using a defined seven-point scale in three different contexts (interactions with the physical environment, humans, and other dolphins). As an example, the range of the scale for the adjective ‘curious’ went from ‘extremely not curious’ (lowest score) to ‘extremely curious’ (highest score). Raters were trainers and keepers who had at least one year of interactive experience with the dolphins they assessed. Each trainer scored each dolphin twice (test 1 and 2), at different times, and without consulting which score was given to that particular dolphin previously, nor discussing their answers with other raters. Preliminary results showed, with a level of significance of 5%, that with the increase of one year in age, the score decreased (p-value <0.05). There were statistically significant differences between males and females (p-value <0.05). On average, males received higher scores than females. In general, there was no difference between the scores given on test 1 and test 2 (p-value=0.063), suggesting that assessment from keepers familiar with the individuals may be a useful tool to assess personality in bottlenose dolphins.


The authors would like to thank all the keepers and trainers that contributed in this study, as well as the Parque Reunidos Foundation.

Literature Cited

1.  Kuczaj II SA, Highfill L, Byerly H. The importance of considering context in the assessment of personality characteristics: evidence from ratings of dolphin personality. Int J Comp Psychol. 2012;25:309–329.

2.  Tetley CL, O’Hara SJ. Ratings of animal personality as a tool for improving the breeding, management and welfare of zoo mammals. Anim Welf. 2012;21:463–476.


Speaker Information
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Marina Salas, DVM, MSc, PhD
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Bellaterra, Spain

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