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In recent years, animal welfare and environmental enrichment for zoo animals has become of great importance in the western world. Barren captive environments can cause under-stimulation of the animal, which can lead to inactivity and display of a less varied behaviour repertoire. This under-stimulation may also cause animals to behave in an abnormal way, e.g. displayed as stereotypies; this is often caused by a lack of resources or opportunities which enable the animals to behave in their natural ways. Stereotypies can in severe cases cause serious health issues and are therefore undesirable. Increasing animal welfare is often done by providing environmental enrichment, aiming at keeping the animals physically as well as mentally stimulated and thus to improve their welfare.

Aiming at creating an animal enclosure that is as close as possible to the natural habitat of that species, is not only done to improve welfare, but also has an important educational aspect, which zoological institutions must ensure. Plants, logs and rocks can be used to create an exciting exhibit which in its turn can stimulate the animal’s senses and encourages natural behaviours. However, to create an exciting captive environment which simulates the natural living conditions for a marine mammal species like the bottlenose dolphin is more challenging than for many of the terrestrial zoo animal species. 

Generally dolphin pools are very barren, with almost no objects or structures in the water column. This is, by tradition, due to a strong focus on water quality and on the undisturbed circulation of the pool water, to ensure that faeces and urine produced by the dolphins are effectively brought to the filters. Enrichment that is most often provided consists of mainly floating objects such as buoys and rubber balls. However, these objects leave the water column empty. Echolocation is partially a learnt behaviour and for wild dolphins sonar provides the main sensory input on their environment, and is fundamental for navigation, hunting and for exploration of their surroundings. Therefore an empty water column and flat pool floor and walls do not stimulate their use of sonar. 

Responsible for this page: Agneta Johansson
Last updated: 05/13/15