Animal Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 5, pp 823–827 | Cite as

Responses to familiar and unfamiliar objects by belugas (Delphinapterus leucas), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), and Pacific white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens)

  • Sara Guarino
  • Deirdre Yeater
  • Steve Lacy
  • Tricia Dees
  • Heather M. Hill
Original Paper


Previous research with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) demonstrated their ability to discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar stimuli. Dolphins gazed longer at unfamiliar stimuli. The current study attempted to extend this original research by examining the responses of three species of cetaceans to objects that differed in familiarity. Eleven belugas from two facilities, five bottlenose dolphins and five Pacific white-sided dolphins housed at one facility were presented different objects in a free-swim scenario. The results indicated that the animals gazed the longest at unfamiliar objects, but these gaze durations did not significantly differ from gaze durations when viewing familiar objects. Rather, the animals gazed longer at unfamiliar objects when compared to the apparatus alone. Species differences emerged with longer gaze durations exhibited by belugas and bottlenose dolphins and significantly shorter gaze durations for Pacific white-sided dolphins. It is likely that the animals categorized objects into familiar and unfamiliar categories, but the free-swim paradigm in naturalistic social groupings did not elicit clear responses. Rather this procedure emphasized the importance of attention and individual preferences when investigating familiar and unfamiliar objects, which has implications for cognitive research and enrichment use.


Object discrimination Familiarity Beluga Bottlenose dolphin Pacific white-sided dolphin Gaze duration 



This study was funded by a grant from the Psi Chi Honor Society to Sara Guarino. Many thanks to the research assistants that helped to conduct this study, including Malin Miller, Brittany Poelma, David Gonzales, Nichole Marshall, Kristy Zuniga, Bryanna Leal, Michelle Weiman, Meredith Nyser, Keaton Mangi, Lindsay Dunlea, and Kelly Miles. We would also like to thank the training staff of SeaWorld San Antonio and Mystic Aquarium for coordinating with us on this project. In particular, Chris White and Steve Aibel from SeaWorld San Antonio, and Chris Harris, Kristine Magao, and Gayle Sirpinkski from Mystic Aquarium were instrumental in completing the study. This is Sea Research Foundation Inc. Contribution #268 and SeaWorld Inc. Technical Contribution #2016-07-T.

Supplementary material

10071_2017_1103_MOESM1_ESM.docx (51 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 75 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara Guarino
    • 1
  • Deirdre Yeater
    • 2
  • Steve Lacy
    • 3
  • Tricia Dees
    • 3
  • Heather M. Hill
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentSt. Mary’s UniversitySan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.Sacred Heart UniversityFairfieldUSA
  3. 3.SeaWorld San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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