Are Dolphins Kept in Impoverished Environments?

Publication Type:
Electronic Article
Year of Publication:
Kelly Jaakkola
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Numerous studies have demonstrated the negative effects of impoverished environments versus the positive effects of enriched environments on animals’ cognitive and neural functioning. Recently, a hypothesis was raised suggesting that conditions for dolphins in zoological facilities may be inherently impoverished, and thus lead to neural and cognitive deficits. This review directly examines that hypothesis in light of the existing scientific literature relevant to dolphin welfare in zoological facilities. Specifically, it examines how dolphins are housed in modern zoological facilities, where the characteristics of such housing fall on the continuum of impoverished-to-enriched environments, and the extent to which dolphins show behavioral evidence characteristic of living in impoverished environments. The results of this analysis show that contrary to the original hypothesis, modern zoological facilities do not inherently, or even typically, house dolphins in impoverished conditions. However, it also notes that there is variation in animal welfare across different zoological facilities, and that “not impoverished” would be a particularly low bar to set as an animal welfare standard. To optimize cognitive well-being, strategies for providing additional cognitive challenges for dolphins in zoological facilities are suggested.


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