Environmental enrichment, training, and habitat characteristics of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Lisa K Lauderdale, Michael T Walsh, Jill D Mellen, Douglas A Granger, Lance J Miller
PloS one
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In recent decades, animal welfare science has evolved to utilize a multidisciplinary approach to assess the welfare of animals in accredited zoos and aquariums. Science-based animal welfare assessments have become an essential component of management programs and widespread application is expected by animal care professionals. Management practices for bottlenose dolphins in accredited facilities incorporate several programs that potentially impact animal welfare including environmental enrichment and animal training. Additionally, habitat characteristics, such as the dimensions of the habitat, have been proposed to affect welfare. While accredited facilities are required to meet high standards of care, habitat characteristics and management practices are not standardized across locations. Knowledge and subsequent application of these practices and habitat characteristics can enhance our understanding of factors associated with positive welfare. As part of a larger study of dolphin welfare titled “Towards understanding the welfare of cetaceans in zoos and aquariums” (colloquially called the Cetacean Welfare Study), survey data were collected from 86 bottlenose dolphins in 40 habitats at 38 facilities in seven countries. The major aims of this paper are to provide general descriptive information regarding dolphin management in accredited zoos and aquariums and to provide supplemental context to the other research published from the Cetacean Welfare Study data set. This paper provides a review of current habitat characteristics and management practices at those 38 accredited zoos and aquariums. These data enabled the identification and quantification of how cetacean management practices differed between participating facilities accredited by the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Variables were selected based on their potential association with welfare including the physical habitat, environmental enrichment, and training programs. The variables were also used for subsequent research in this collection of related papers to investigate important connections between potential indicators of welfare and habitat characteristics, environmental enrichment, and training programs.


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