Body Contacts and Social Interactions in Captive Odontocetes Are Influenced by the Context: An Implication for Welfare Assessment

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Agathe Serres, Yujiang Hao, Ding Wang
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Research on the welfare of captive odontocetes has increased in recent years, but has been mostly focused on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Few studies investigated potential welfare indicators using quantitative data linked to a range of conditions or stimuli that are thought to impact the animals’ emotional state. Since odontocetes are social animals that engage in various social interactions, these interactions might inform us on their welfare state. We investigated pectoral contact laterality and the effect of the context on several social behaviors in three groups of captive odontocetes (Yangtze finless porpoises, YFPs: Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis; East-Asian finless porpoises, EAFPs: N. a. sunameri, and bottlenose dolphins, BDs). Animals exhibited patterns depending on the time of the day for most of the social behaviors we analyzed; social separation was associated with lower rates of social behaviors for the two analyzed groups (YFPs and BDs), the accessibility to several pools was associated with higher rates of social behaviors for BDs. The effect of enrichment, disturbances and public presence was less clear and strongly depended on the group, the type of enrichment and disturbance. Our results confirm that captive odontocetes’ social behaviors are influenced by the context, and that, depending on the group, some of them, such as pectoral contacts, other body contacts, agonistic interactions or social play exhibit consistent patterns across contexts. Monitoring these behaviors might be useful to adapt the captive management to each species and group. The different responses among the three studied groups confirm that species and groups react differently to a stimulus and therefore, management decisions should be species/group specific. We recommend that more studies should be conducted to validate our findings in other groups of odontocetes under human care.


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