Dolphin-WET—Development of a Welfare Evaluation Tool for Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) under Human Care

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Katrin Baumgartner, Tim Hüttner, Isabella L. K. Clegg, Manuel Garcia Hartmann, Daniel Garcia-Párraga, Xavier Manteca, Birgitta Mercera, Tania Monreal-Pawlowsky, Cristina Pilenga, Kerstin Ternes, Oriol Tallo-Parra, Ruta Vaicekauskaite, Lorenzo von Fersen, Lisa Yon, Fabienne Delfour
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Ensuring high standards of animal welfare is not only an ethical duty for zoos and aquariums, but it is also essential to achieve their conservation, education, and research goals. While for some species, animal welfare assessment frameworks are already in place, little has been done for marine animals under human care. Responding to this demand, the welfare committee of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) set up a group of experts on welfare science, cetacean biology, and zoo animal medicine across Europe. Their objective was to develop a comprehensive tool to evaluate the welfare of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), named Dolphin-WET. The tool encompasses 49 indicators that were either validated through peer review or management-based expertise. The first of its kind, the Dolphin-WET is a species-specific welfare assessment tool that provides a holistic approach to evaluating dolphin welfare. Inspired by Mellor’s Five Domains Model and the Welfare Quality®, its hierarchical structure allows for detailed assessments from overall welfare down to specific indicators. Through combining 37 animal-based and 12 resource-based indicators that are evaluated based on a two- or three-level scoring, the protocol offers a detailed evaluation of individual dolphins. This approach allows for regular internal monitoring and targeted welfare management, enabling caretakers to address specific welfare concerns effectively.


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