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Cetaceans that do well in captivity

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by J-K, 10 Apr 2022.

  1. J-K

    J-K Member

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    I found this research study which revealed that bottlenose dolphins live just as long or longer in American zoos and aquariums. I think the Dolphin Research Center (which looks after captive dolphins themselves) had a role in this study, so the research could be biased and therefore might not tell the full story. Here's the link:
    http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/mms.12601

    This got me thinking - which cetaceans (if any) tend to do well in captivity compared to their wild counterparts? By "well" I mean having low mortality rates and long life expectancies compared to wild populations and demonstrating good welfare (exhibiting natural behaviors, etc). Or, based on ongoing research and statistical trends, are there any species of cetaceans that don't do well in captivity now but have the potential to thrive in the future?

    I've believed that cetaceans fair poorly under human care for quite some time now, but it would be great to know if some species have good health and quality of life in captivity.
     
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  2. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    This is an impossible question to answer. Few species have been kept in captivity at all, and beyond the main 3, the numbers of individuals has been low, much too low to compare to wild numbers. Many have been rescues, so likely have their lifespan impacted by whatever happened in the wild. It's also difficult to get accurate information for wild animals to compare to, beyond those that are heavily studied and tracked (like orcas and humpbacks). Unless an animal is tracked from birth, we don't know a precise age, and even then, we don't know all of their health struggles. We don't know when most cetaceans die, it tends to be a matter of animal ABC hasn't been seen in x amount of time so likely passed away.

    There's also the issue of husbandry vastly improving over the years; if we knew then what we know now, past captives most certainly would have lived longer. A fantastic example for that is the Amazon river dolphin. During the height of trying to keep them in zoos, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was believed that they liked deeper tanks, like other dolphin species. Now we know they thrive with shallow water, something the last exhibits in the USA and Europe shared. The second to last Amazon in the USA passed away in 1987, at 23 years old... Pittsburgh's Chuckles lived all the way to 2002. The well-known Baby, in Duisburg, made it to 2020 and was in his late 40's.
     
  3. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

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    Moreover, in this case the species doesn't merely need shallow tanks to thrive, but to survive full stop, as deeper tanks cause them to die due to sleep deprivation.... which is why the majority of animals kept elsewhere in the USA tended towards survival rates measured in weeks or months at most.
     
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  4. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    Exactly. So if you look at the overall survival rate in captivity, it's abysmal. But if you look at it after zoologists learned that and started employing it, animals were living much longer.
     
  5. Great Argus

    Great Argus Well-Known Member

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    This is very difficult to assess, a lot of species are relatively poorly known in terms of wild trends and life history. For many species we know a great deal mostly by having studied either captive or beached/whaling specimens. A lot of cetacean life history is still very poorly known simply due to the rare sightings of many species.

    Quite a few do quite well with good care, despite what various animal rights groups will tell you.
     
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  6. pachyderm pro

    pachyderm pro Well-Known Member

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    It really does sting that if only we knew what we do now when the imports were conducted, we could potentially have had a decent number of river dolphins still in captivity today. They’re arguably better adapted to it than saltwater cetaceans thanks to their more solitary nature and not requiring exceptionally large tanks compared to their cousins. The odds of ever seeing them in the western world ever again are minuscule, but I would be curious to know if some are held at any South American facilities.
     
  7. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    I think there's only one place that holds them now.
     
  8. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    Valencia Aquarium in Venezuela apparently no longer does (unless they have since obtained more).

    Guistochoca Zoo in Peru did as of 2020.

    Both the above from this thread:
    River Dolphins in captivity!

    There may be others as most South American zoos obviously aren't well-represented in English-language media.
     
  9. TinoPup

    TinoPup Well-Known Member

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    The one in Peru is where I was thinking of, couldn't remember the name.
     
  10. Anmltrnr98

    Anmltrnr98 Active Member

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    Hi Jayden,

    I believe that like many other intelligent, sentient, complex species, cetaceans can thrive in human care, but that depends largely on the specific circumstances of their care. Zoo animal welfare, on the whole, is significantly less documented when compared with other animal industries (lab, farm, etc.), but that is slowly starting to change.

    The first large-scale study of the welfare of cetaceans in human care was published last fall. You can find the study in its entirety here: Cetacean Welfare in Professionally Managed Programs - PLOS Collections

    The AZA published some of the highlights of the study in their connect magazine, which you can read here: Cetacean Welfare

    Life expectancy, mortality, and behavior are all key welfare indicators, but I encourage you to look at these findings to see some of the other ways scientists are trying to measure cetacean welfare.
     
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  11. Orcinus Orca

    Orcinus Orca Member

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    I think for many cetaceans,especially the species found in human care currently,it’s a case of when they’ll be able to do well captivity,rather than if they can at all. The situation honestly reminds me of the state Gorillas were in for quite a long time historically,where the consensus was once that they just don’t do well and died young.

    Obviously everyone knows the challenges that comes with keeping these animals,due to their wide ranging nature and high intelligence. And while I’m iffy on cetaceans in captivity currently myself and in most cases I’m not fond of the concept,I feel as if a lot of the issues currently can be pretty easily resolved in the future. After all,welfare standards are improving and it is mostly just unfortunate luck that many aquaria and marine parks still have rather small and often rather barren tanks,rather than more updated habitats that would benefit them better,though a lack of updated tanks is likely just a financial thing. I think a lot of issues that are brought up about these marine mammals in captive environments can kind of just be tied the state of their exhibits for the most part. If their living quarters get updated or expanded,or even have brand new tanks constructed,alongside creative and plentiful enrichment,I reckon many species would have a pretty good standard of living.

    As for what species though,it probably still varies a bit. Bottlenose Dolphins probably could do very well and I feel that facilities are getting really close to creating the perfect captive environment for them. The larger,more pelagic cetaceans like Pilot Whales and Orcas probably aren’t as impossible as anti-captivity folk say,but it’s likely more difficult and is probably a good bit further off than say Bottlenose or White-Sided Dolphins.
     
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  12. StoppableSan

    StoppableSan Well-Known Member

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    You'd have to build something on par with the Mosasaur tank from Jurassic World for a pod of orcas...
     
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  13. Anmltrnr98

    Anmltrnr98 Active Member

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    One of the key findings of the multi-institution study I linked above is that habitat factors (size, depth, open/contained, # of habitats) had less to do with distance traveled than management factors (enrichment, training, social management). It's a good reminder that our anthropocentric perception of an exhibit is not necessarily what is best or most important for the animals.
     
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  14. J-K

    J-K Member

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    True, but I think that study primarily researched bottlenose dolphins, not killers whales.
     
  15. J-K

    J-K Member

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    Reminds me of the Beluga Whale Sanctuary in Iceland. It'd be nice if they conducted a study comparing cetacean welfare in sanctuary settings versus traditional captive settings.
     
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  16. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    Besides the ones already mentioned, harbour porpoises are doing very well in two research institutions in Europe. Commerson dolphins also fared well in the past and a single tucuxi lived to the old age in Munster and humpback ad Irrawady dolphins live in some places in Asia. They are strong candidates to species which do as well as in the wild.

    But of course, if one requires that the wild population must be known well enough to compare, and the population in human care must be big enough and recent enough to draw conclusions - the question framed this way is not answerable.But it also means that it is false to imply that other cetaceans don't do well in human care.

    Cetaceans kept as single animals in so-called sanctuaries have very questionable welfare. Perhaps some people still think that something called a sanctuary is automatically better than a zoo But for a social species, keeping a single 'rescued' cetacean is cruel, like keeping a single chimp or an elephant cow. And prohibiting breeding and raising young in the name of 'letting them die out with dignity' is very questionable.
     
  17. J-K

    J-K Member

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    I also forgot to mention, but it's important to note that most cetacean exhibits are much smaller than a sanctuary setting like the one in Iceland. Although traditional cetacean exhibits vary in size, the difference between a smaller tank and larger tank is much different compared to the difference between a tank and an inlet.
     
  18. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Part of the difficulty going forward is the ability to to acquire new captives. Capturing them as we used to do is a non-starter for most conservationists and would not go well for media attention, among other reasons. Rescues are great ways to get them, but more often than not you are looking at one or two animals at a time, leaving them alone for a extended period.

    Sometimes different species can share space; however, often a rescue ends up as a single or pair of animals, and that is not an ideal situation for social creatures over the long term.
     
  19. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    I think cetaceans in human care suffer a little from the approach that they are 'special' compared to other animals. In majority of social animals, the main factor in well being is balanced social group. Dolphins are kept in groups, but there is no sufficient care to mimic the natural group composition (bottlenose are often kept as one adult male with multiple females, for example). And a movement exist to isolate animals, or keep them in too small groups. If feel that in detailed studies, social interactions will turn to be most important welfare factor, and mentioned above interaction with a keeper is a proxy of interaction with conspecifics.

    Also, there is little movement to let cetaceans self-isolate from others, with sight barriers or multiple tanks.

    Also, diverse environment in ignored because of the idea that 'open ocean is featureless'. But almost all cetaceans in human care are species living in very shallow waters, and there is also diversity in terms of sounds, currents of water, lighting etc.
     
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  20. GaryA

    GaryA Well-Known Member

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    I think that the longevity issue doesn't prove that dolphins etc necessarily do better in captivity. After all, the precious few held are worth a lot of money to their holders, and receive veterinary care and keeper care 24-7. They face none of the issues a wild population face, and the period of successfully keeping them is relatively short compared to many other species. Possibly easier to compare with successful keeping and breeding the great apes, another high maintenance group.
    If zoos could have saved the Baji and can help save the Vaquita, then it would be worth it.
    Otherwise they will remain nothing better than a glitzy side show with little conservation benefit going forward.