Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1245–1259 | Cite as

Visual laterality in belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) and Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) when viewing familiar and unfamiliar humans

  • Deirdre B. YeaterEmail author
  • Heather M. Hill
  • Natalie Baus
  • Heather Farnell
  • Stan A. KuczajII
Original Paper


Lateralization of cognitive processes and motor functions has been demonstrated in a number of species, including humans, elephants, and cetaceans. For example, bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have exhibited preferential eye use during a variety of cognitive tasks. The present study investigated the possibility of visual lateralization in 12 belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) and six Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) located at two separate marine mammal facilities. During free swim periods, the belugas and Pacific white-sided dolphins were presented a familiar human, an unfamiliar human, or no human during 10–15 min sessions. Session videos were coded for gaze duration, eye presentation at approach, and eye preference while viewing each stimulus. Although we did not find any clear group level lateralization, we found individual left eye lateralized preferences related to social stimuli for most belugas and some Pacific white-sided dolphins. Differences in gaze durations were also observed. The majority of individual belugas had longer gaze durations for unfamiliar rather than familiar stimuli. These results suggest that lateralization occurs during visual processing of human stimuli in belugas and Pacific white-sided dolphins and that these species can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar humans.


Delphinapterus leucas Beluga Pacific white-sided dolphins Lagenorhynchus obliquidens Perceptual laterality Human-animal familiarity 



The authors thank undergraduate research assistants Katherine Anninos and Katherine Mala from Sacred Heart University and Melissa Garcia from St. Mary’s University for their assistance conducting observations and coding the videos. We are grateful to Mystic Aquarium, a division of Sea Research Foundation, and SeaWorld San Antonio for access to the study animals. Special thanks go to Kristine Magao, Gayle Sirpinski, Shirlee Crandall, and Steve Lacy for logistical support. In addition, we would like to thank all of the animal care staff at both facilities for participating in the study as the familiar stimuli. Finally, we thank Judy St. Leger, Tracy Romano, and several other anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. This constitutes scientific contribution #220 from the Sea Research Foundation.

Supplementary material

10071_2014_756_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deirdre B. Yeater
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heather M. Hill
    • 2
  • Natalie Baus
    • 2
  • Heather Farnell
    • 1
  • Stan A. KuczajII
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySacred Heart UniversityFairfieldUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySt. Mary’s UniversitySan AntonioUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA

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