Promoting Affiliative Social Behavior in Bottlenose Dolphins

The Cetacean Welfare Study was the largest ever multi-institutional study on the welfare of cetaceans. The study was conducted at 43 accredited facilities in seven countries. Given the importance of social behavior to bottlenose dolphins this was one of the main behaviors of focus for the large study. Bottlenose dolphins are a species that live in a fission-fusion society. This means that larger groups of dolphins will break into smaller groups and then rejoin the larger group at different times.

Analysis of the data suggests that facilities that manage animals similar to how dolphins live in the wild related to higher levels of affiliative (i.e., positive) social behavior. This has been the way dolphins have been managed at the Brookfield Zoo for decades and we will continue this moving forward based on the results of the study. Additionally, it was found that providing new forms of environmental enrichment also related to higher levels of social behavior. While Brookfield Zoo already had a robust enrichment program for our animals, the team now has a dedicated team member whose job it is to introduce a new enrichment item regularly and to change up the current enrichment rotation on an even more frequent schedule. Brookfield Zoo is committed to the continuous improvement of the welfare of bottlenose dolphins under our professional care.

Dr. Lance Miller
Vice President of Conservation Science and Animal Welfare Research
Published July 11, 2022