Isabella Clegg

Document Type

Internship Report

Publication Date

Fall 2013


Welfare science and public concern for animal welfare is increasing, and although the movement originated with farm animals the focus is now on species in zoos and aquaria. Ensuring high levels of welfare is a primary concern to most facility managers, but to date, there are no comprehensive assessments to measure welfare in zoos and aquaria. Bottlenose dolphins are the most common cetacean maintained in managed care, and although there is an on–­‐going, intense debate regarding the ethics of captivity, there are no objective data available regarding their welfare in captivity. The Welfare Quality® framework for farm animals was adapted to measure the welfare of bottlenose dolphins, and was chosen for its comprehensive, practical and transparent structure. The 36 species-­‐ specific welfare measures were created following an extensive literature review and utilizing expert opinion discussions and interviews, and were refined during practical application at two marine mammal facilities, which were awarded an ‘excellent’ welfare rating. The high proportion of animal-­‐based measures in this assessment (58%) enabled a more direct welfare evaluation when compared to other, resource-­‐based standards available in the industry. An extensive document was produced detailing the methodologies required to assess bottlenose dolphin welfare and relevant scoring. The C-­‐Well assessment was established in a relatively short time period and needs further development to validate and refine the welfare measures, and weighting of the different criteria must occur before progression to a certification scheme. However, currently and as is, the C-­‐Well assessment can identify areas of attention for managers, highlighting where they are succeeding in maintaining high welfare standards and areas that require improvement, and functions as a meaningful ‘all-­‐or-­‐nothing’ assessment. The C-­‐Well scores can be compared among individuals, demographics, and facilities, and in addition to endless research and management applications, may reveal specific protocols that promote good welfare. As the first welfare assessment for dolphins, the goal of this project was to stimulate further research and monitoring of how management practices in zoological settings affect animal welfare, resulting in efforts to improve the lives of animals in captivity.


Department: MBF

MPS Track: MMS

Location: Dolphins Plus (Key Largo, FL)

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