In a new study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, researchers from Spain have discovered that Orcas display personality traits similar to both humans and chimpanzees.
The traits that were most distinguished included boldness, agreeableness, protectiveness, and playfulness. The authors of the study assessed personality in 24 captive orcas housed at SeaWord San Diego and the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife, Spain by using a version of the Five-Factor Model. The five-factor model is tool that characterizes a person’s unique personality structure based on the degree to which adjectives correspond to Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
“This is the first study to examine the personality traits of killer whales and how they relate to us and other primates,” Úbeda, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Girona, said in a statement. “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 team of researchers asked 55 trainers and other park staff whom work closely with the animals to rate each animal in regards to 38 personality description adjectives. The analysis of the questionnaire revealed that the Orca’s displayed four of the personality traits.
The first factor, labeled “Extraversion”, was described by the adjectives playful, social, active, cheerful, and gregarious; some of the same adjectives used in the Extraversion factor of the classic Five-Factor Model used in humans and chimpanzees. The second factor was labeled as “Conscien-agreeableness” due to raters consistently describing orcas with adjectives – such as patient, predictable, gentle, and generous – that are used in a chimpanzee Five-Factor Model bracket of the same name. A third factor, defined by the traits associated with the words bold, brave, dominant, protective, intelligent, and laborious, was named “Dominance”. And finally, based on category-defying adjectives that included helpful, sympathetic, sensitive, organized, and prudent, the authors titled a fourth factor “Careful”.
The authors wrote that, “Given the small sample size of our study, we must be cautious in our conclusions. However, the similarity of personality structure across primate species and killer whales suggests evolutionary convergence. Perhaps this type of personality structure, and the distinct individual differences in behavior that this structure implies, are associated with complex sociality (including long-term dyadic relationships) and the cognitive abilities that go along with complex sociality.”
In the end, all species displayed a high level of intelligence while also displaying that they live in shifting groups, engage in cooperative behavior, and possess cultural traditions and skills that are passed down to future generations.
Hopefully the research can assist in the application of protecting Orca whales and ensuring that human interference is limited as much as possible. Orca whales around the world still continue to be hunted down and sold off for the purpose of human entertainment.