Killer whales display personality traits similar to those of humans and chimpanzees, such as playfulness, cheerfulness and affection, according to new research.
The American Psychological Association has published a study that says killer whales display personality traits similar to humans and even more similar to chimpanzees.
Published online in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, the APA’s study analysed the personalities of 24 killer whales all in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego and the Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain – the zoo’s orca program is a partner of SeaWorld. Six of the whales studied were born in the wild, the rest born in captivity.
Researchers involved in the current study said they conducted their work with captive orcas because of the difficulty of trying to assess personality traits of killer whales in the wild.
They noted that the personality traits observed in this small sample size of captive killer whales – whose personality traits appeared similar to those of humans and chimpanzees – could differ from the personality traits of killer whales in the wild.
“This is the first study to examine the personality traits of killer whales and how they relate to us and other primates,” says lead researcher Yulán Úbeda, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Girona in Spain. “These similar personality traits may have developed because they were necessary to form complex social interactions in tightly knit groups that we see in killer whales, humans and other primates.”
The study was compared to a study done on humans and chimpanzees. It ranked each animal on a list of personality traits. Playfulness, independence, stubbornness, sensitivity and protectiveness were just some of the 38 traits used to analyse the animals.
The traits were all judged based on a five-factor model. The factors included extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, dominance and carefulness.
Orcas, humans and chimpanzees all shared similarities in extraversion. Playfulness and sociable were two traits the three species could use to describe this factor. However, orcas and chimpanzees shared more traits as dominant and agreeable factors. Brave and stubborn were two respective traits for the factors.
Previous research has shown that captivity can alter the personality of killer whales, increasing neuroticism and aggression. Physical changes, such as dorsal fin collapse, also have been observed. SeaWorld, which was involved in this study, has faced scrutiny over the cramped living conditions for its captive killer whales.