Sánchez–Hernández, P., Krasheninnikova, A., Almunia, J. et al. 2019. Social interaction analysis in captive orcas (Orcinus orca). Zoo Biology 38(4), 323-333.
The management of socially complex species in captivity is challenging. Research on their social behavior improves our understanding of interactions in captive animals and captive-group management. We conducted a detailed analysis of social relationships shown by the orcas kept at Loro Parque zoo and their tendency to reconcile after aggressive episodes. Affiliative interactions were the most frequent social activities compared to agonistic or sexual interactions. Within affiliative behaviors, we documented the pattern “gentle tongue bite”, where an animal touches the other's tongue with his teeth but does not bite it. Affiliative interactions between a specific pair of orcas occurred significantly more often than expected by chance, and together with low levels of agonistic interactions, indicated particular affinity between some individuals. The most frequently observed low-level agonistic relationship was that of the two older males (Tekoa-Keto); however, they also showed frequent sexual and affiliative interactions. Sexual-like behaviors (pursuit, mount, and penis between males) were found in both sexes. Finally, the observed corrected conciliatory tendency (31.57%) was within the range described for other primate and cetacean species. This study provides a systematic way to assess social interactions as well as conflict management strategies in cetaceans housed in zoos and zoo-like facilities and may help to improve animal welfare and management of animals in controlled environments.