Are Captive Dolphins ‘Happy’?

Scientists working with dolphins at a marine park near Paris have attempted to measure how the animals feel about aspects of their lives in captivity

In what researchers say is the first project to examine captivity “from the animals’ perspective”, the team assessed what activities dolphins looked forward to most.

They found that the marine mammals most keenly anticipated interacting with a familiar human.

The results, they say, show that “better human-animal bonds equals better welfare”.

The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, was part of a three-year project to measure dolphin welfare in a captive setting.

Lead researcher Dr Isabella Clegg worked at Parc Astérix, a theme park with one of France’s largest dolphinariums.

With colleagues at the University of Paris animal behaviour lab, she designed experiments to decode dolphin behaviour – essentially looking for physical postures that indicate how the animals were feeling.

“We wanted to find out what activities in captivity they like most,” Dr Clegg told the BBC.

To work this out, she tested three activities: a trainer coming and playing with dolphins; adding toys to the pool; and a control, which meant leaving the dolphins to their own devices.

“We found a really interesting result – all dolphins look forward most to interacting with a familiar human,” Dr Clegg said.

The animals showed this anticipation by “spy hopping”, the action of peering above the surface and looking in the direction…

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