|The Role of Conspecifics in Socio-Sexual Behavior Development in Belugas Under Human Care|
|Malin K. Lilley1,2, Heather M. Hill3. 1Texas A&M University- San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, United States; 2The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, United States; 3St. Mary's University, San Antonio, TX, United States
Previous research indicated that belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) can develop behaviors through social learning; however, the role conspecifics play in the development of socio-sexual behavior (SSB) in young belugas has not yet been examined. The present study explored how SSB developed in belugas under human care by recording the behavior of 5 belugas between years 4 and 10 of their lives. It was hypothesized that if these behaviors are socially learned, the presence of an adult male in a social group would increase the prevalence of SSB. Significant predictors of SSB included the subject sex, subject age, month of year, and presence of young male conspecifics but not the presence of adult males. Additionally, examining interaction partners indicated that SSBs of the developing individuals frequently included another immature conspecific who was usually male, though adult males were less common partners. Understanding the role conspecifics play in the development of beluga SSB may contribute to their reproductive success under human care and in the wild, which is essential for preserving currently endangered populations of beluga whales.