Implications of human-animal interactions on mother-calf interactions in a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) dyad

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
T. Welsh, S. J. Ward
Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research
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Most research on human-animal interactions (HAls) in zoos focuses on the influence of unfamiliar humans (visitors) on the animals. Limited research focusses on the influence of familiar (keepers/trainers) HAI and there has been no research investigating the impact of familiar HAls on mother-offspring interactions. The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) has been bred and trained in captivity for decades and is the most common cetacean in captivity. This provides scope to investigate the impact that familiar HAls can have on mother-calf interactions. This study aimed to compare the dolphin-dyadic interactions before, during and after a HAI with a trainer. A single mother-calf dyad was observed for 50 hours at Mundomar dolphinarium, Spain. Instantaneous focal sampling recorded the mother-calf interactions exhibited before, during and after HAI. The HAI category (medical, training, gating, separation and presentation) was also recorded. A Friedman Two-Way ANOVA and Related-Samples Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test showed no significant decreases in mother-calf interactions post HAI, with ‘suckling’ observed significantly more after HAI and ‘not-interacting’ seen significantly less. HAI category found that dolphin interactions were seen more after medical interactions than other categories. Results suggest that the HAls are encouraging increased interactions between the mother-offspring dyad and therefore there is an effect of HAI on interactions; yet, due to data constraints it is difficult to conclude whether these are positive or negative. However, an increase in affiliative behaviour promotes social bonding between mother and calf. This study has provided a first step in assessing the impacts of familiar HAI on the development of the mother-calf relationship and given scope for further research in this area.


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