Visitor attachment to dolphins during an interaction programme, are there implications to dolphin behavior?

Zoo Biology
Thomas Welsh, Samantha Ward

Abstract

Millions of people visit zoos and aquariums globally each year, with a smaller number choosing to participate in animal interaction programmes which allows visitors closer contact with individual animals. These are reportedly having mixed effects in increasing conservation-related behaviors. Human-animal interactions (HAIs) during these programmes are generally positive experiences for the human participants, however are there behavioral implications for the animals involved? The Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is the most widely used cetacean for dolphin interactions, known as "swim with dolphin" (SWD) programmes. This study investigated visitor attachment to the dolphins they interacted with, whilst assessing behavioral implications of the dolphins. A total of 41 visitors to a Spanish dolphinarium, who participated in a SWD were surveyed using a modified version of the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale. Alongside this, 15-min continuous focal samples monitored three female dolphins (D1, D2, and D3) aged 22-40, split into pre (n = 96), during (n = 96) and post (n = 96) SWD. 80% of visitors reported a sense of attachment to the dolphin they interacted with. An exploratory factor analysis extracted three factors from th...Continue Reading

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