Delfour, F., Vaicekauskaite, R., García-Párraga, D. et al. 2021. Behavioural diversity study in bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) groups and its implications for welfare assessments. Animals 11(6), 1715.
In the recent past, animal welfare studies have tried to determine the best animal welfare measures and indicators. Expression of behavioural diversity is considered a potential positive welfare indicator, and to the authors’ knowledge, it has not been validated nor studied in cetaceans. For the first time, a behavioural diversity study on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) groups was conducted at six European facilities. The study was carried out by the animal care staff, biologists and veterinarians and included 54 dolphins housed in several group compositions at the different participating facilities. The goal of our study was to analyse behavioural diversity in bottlenose dolphins at the group level to investigate how particular factors might impact the diversity of behaviours within the group and to discuss its implications for dolphin welfare assessments. Eight factors (i.e., “observer location”, “number of individuals”, “age class”, “sex”, “social grouping”, “presence/absence of leading male”, “presence/absence of visitors” and “enrichment provision”) impacted the behavioural diversity of the observed groups, while no significant impact of the factors “time of day” and “activity before/after observation” could be found. Our study showed the feasibility of this kind of approach for cetaceans under professional care and the relevance to considering this parameter in dolphin welfare studies, despite certain limitations that warrant further research.