Monitoring captive odontocetes’ participation during training sessions for improving training efficiency and welfare evaluation

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Agathe Serres, Yujiang Hao, Ding Wang
Journal of Veterinary Behavior
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In captive facilities, odontocetes are subject to daily training/feeding sessions which often create close relationships between animals and their caretakers. Therefore, such sessions are thought to provide information that can be useful for welfare assessment. Recent studies on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) validated caretakers’ ratings of dolphins’ participation during training sessions as a welfare indicator. Even though their behaviour, adaptation to captive settings or relationship with humans may differ from bottlenose dolphins, many other odontocete species remain much less studied. In the present study, animals from three groups including Yangtze finless porpoises (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis), East-Asian finless porpoises (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis sunameri), and bottlenose dolphins were monitored during training sessions. Four variables were recorded: a participation score rated by caretakers, the leaving rate, the amount of food eaten, and the propensity to finish the attributed food. Bottlenose dolphins participated better in sessions: they were attributed higher participation scores, departed less and finished their food more often than finless porpoises. The context of the sessions, including time of the day, season, type of session, social grouping, occurrence of unusual events or presence of visitors affected the parameters recorded during sessions in the three groups. The inter-species differences and the context-related variations of the four measured parameters should be used to adapt the schedules and techniques of training sessions for each group. Such adaptation could improve training effectiveness and the human-animal relationship. In addition, the associations among the four measured parameters and between these parameters and the animals’ displayed activity revealed the most informative parameter for each group: participation score for Yangtze finless porpoises, food intake for East-Asian finless porpoises and leaving rate for bottlenose dolphins. These parameters best reflect the motivation of the animals during sessions, and may therefore be beneficial to integrate into welfare monitoring tools.


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