Skip to main content
CZAAWE Resource Article
Learning from nature: bottlenose dolphin care and husbandry
Year of publication
Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
Abstract 10.1002/zoo.20252.abs The world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population, operated by the Chicago Zoological Society since 1989, has focused on the multi-generational resident community of about 160 bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, since 1970. Observational and capture-release research on the biology, behavior, life history, ecology, and health of individually identifiable bay residents of up to 59 years of age and spanning five generations has helped to inform collection managers at the Brookfield Zoo and partner institutions. Age, sex, and genetic compositions of colonies at cooperating institutions have been based on observations of social structure and genetic paternity testing in Sarasota Bay to optimize breeding success. Breeding success, including calf survivorship, is evaluated relative to individual wild dolphin reproductive histories, spanning as many as nine calves and four decades. Individual rearing patterns for wild dolphins provide guidance for determining how long to keep mothers and calves together, and help to define the next steps in the calves' social development. Health assessments provide data on expected ranges of blood, milk and urine values, morphometrics, and body condition relative to age, sex, and reproductive condition. Calf growth can be compared with wild values. Target weights and blubber thicknesses for specific age and sex classes in specified water temperatures are available for wild dolphins, and caloric intakes can be adjusted accordingly to meet the targets. A strength of the program is the ability to monitor individuals throughout their lives, and to be able to define individual ranges of variability through ontogenetic stages. Zoo Biol 28:635–651, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.